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88-Year-Old NoLIta Butcher Still Carves Out a Living

By Serena Solomon

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

NOLITA — It was living history staring at a picture of history.

Moe Albanese, an 88-year-old NoLita butcher, sat quietly mulling over an old photo of Elizabeth Street someone had recently slipped under his door.

"This block was all inhabited by Sicilians and they all had their own saints," he said, guessing that the photo of the street lined with people, stalls and banners was taken during a celebration of one of those saints.

Albanese Meats and Poultry, at 238 Elizabeth Street, near Prince Street, is the last butcher on a stretch that was once lined with at least half a dozen of them.

And with no plans to pass the business on, the days of the old-school meat purveyor in an area that used to be part of a shrinking Little Italy could soon be gone. 

The store, a family business, started across the street in 1923 by Albanese's father, Vincenzo, an Italian immigrant. After Vincenzo’s death in 1954, the son worked the business with his mother, Mary, until her death in 2002. She was 97.

Bars and boutiques now surround the firehouse red store, but Albanese, who grew up in neighborhood, is still tied to the old ways of doing business.

Each day, he makes a pilgrimage to the Meatpacking District to hand-select his products.

"It's hard to describe what I look for," Albanese said. Choosing his wares is about intuition – he knows it when he sees it. 

Unlike the convenience of modern supermarkets, sides of beef and lamb sit in the glass display cabinets surrounded by dangling meat cleavers and vintage scales.

"We don't pre-cut anything," Albanese said. "Customers come in and we cut it right in front of the customer."

Before health regulations prevented it, Albanese, of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, remembers the epitome of fresh – when his store stocked live rabbits and chickens. 

"They would come pick out a rabbit and we would slaughter it," said Albanese. "They wanted everything live."

The neighborhood was once full of young, working class families and cooking dinner was the only option, according Albanese. Now, the young hipsters who inhabit the area simply don't cook, he said.

"And I don't blame them," said Albanese. "You can go to Cubana [Café, down the street] and get fed for $7."

The family business, which is just shy of 90 years old, has no succession plan.

Albanese doesn't want to pass it on to his children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren because it's not doing well and they've taken up other professions.

"The dollars are small," he admits. 

Albanese, who works in the shop by himself, took on an apprentice a few years ago, but the partnership didn't work out because the young man wanted to bring in meat that wasn't up to scratch. As Albanese put it, "he had to go."

Who or if anyone takes over the business is a conversation no one wants to have, according to Moe’s younger brother who regularly visits the store just to chat.

"There are not really people who know this trade anymore," said Vincent Albanese, a 67-year-old retired New York City detective. He recalled the days when customers lined up for one or two hours on a Saturday to get their meat from the store.

"My brother would love to continue with the shop, but the clientele is not here anymore," he said.

Now for the older brother, whose wife died ten years ago, the daily commute is more about socializing than economics.

"It's a hangout. People come here and hang out and discuss," Albanese said. "When you have this type of atmosphere you always have friends."