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Back to the Butchers

Recently, we told you all about the East Village Meat Market, a traditional Ukrainian butcher shop on 2nd Avenue and 9th Street.  We also told you that this was the last such surviving  butcher shop in the East Village.  Two others that have been lost within the past 5 years are Kurowycky Meat Products, formerly at 124 1st Avenue, between 7th & 8th Streets, and B&M Meat Market, formerly at 111 1st Avenue, between 6th and 7th Streets.  These neighboring shops both closed in 2007, but their history is well worth revisiting.

the former storefront of Kurowycky Meat Products

storefront of Kurowycky Meats....when it was still legal to hang your meat

The East Village Meat Market, Kurowycky Meat Products, and B&M Meat Market had a couple things in common- they were all of Eastern European ownership and style and they were all traditional smokehouses.  The Old World process of smoking meats such as ham and kielbasa usually goes something like this– the meat is soaked and cured in a salt water solution for about two weeks, is then hung to dry in the smokehouse for 1 or 2 days, and finally is glazed.  Of course, each butcher shop has its own hidden secrets on how to do this best.  What many now consider a critical factor in the loss of Kurowycky and B&M was the decision in 2005 by NY State agricultural officials to alter regulations to bar meat from being kept out in the open and unrefrigerated, for fear of E. coli, staph, salmonella and listeria.  Slavic butcher shops were always best known for their window displays of hanging sausages and behind-the-counter selections of kielbasas strung like Christmas lights.  Once the rules changed, however, it was plastic replicas only.  According to the shops’ owners, this was a very big deal to patrons- long time customers liked to see their food and hand select their specific meat.  Also lost was the delicious aroma that would fill the shop and draw customers in to make a meat purchase.

Kurowycky Meat Products closed in June 2007 after 52 years of business.  The closing statement released by the shop’s owner, Jaroslaw (he went by Jerry) Kurowycky read as follows:

“It is with great sadness that I am announcing the closing of Kurowycky Meat products after 52 years. Today’s economic climate just does not support a small business on the scale that ours endeavors to survive in. Thank you all for all your years of support. We are closing as of this Saturday, June 2nd [2007]. It was a great ride and again, we thank you all.”

Mr. Kurowycky’s grandfather, a Ukrainian immigrant named Erast who fled to the U.S. in 1949, bought the butcher shop from another owner in 1955.  Erast was a master butcher in the Ukraine.  This first shop was on Avenue B between 10th and 11th Streets and moved to its final location in 1973 when Erast handed the business over to his son, the second generation owner, also named Jaroslaw.  When Jaroslaw Senior relocated the shop to 124 1st Avenue, a tenement building that dates its construction to 1851,  it was already outfitted as a Ukrainian butcher shop owned by a fellow Ukrainian immigrant, Platon Stasiuk, who immigrated to the neighborhood in 1912.

a back-facing view of Kurowycky...the store sold much more than just meat (image courtesy of New York Magazine)

According to an article in the Times marking the end of the Kurowycky era, the shop’s heyday was in the 70s when Jaroslaw Senior had 13 employees working under him to serve the predominantly Eastern European community.   With four wood and gas smokers in the back of the shop, this was one of the last places carnivores could go to buy meats cured and smoked in the pre-WWII fashion of the Old World.  At Christmas time, they would say 10,000 pounds of ham!  In fact, a 1975 New York Times article titled “A Mecca for Sausage and Ham Lovers,” devoted itself to explaining the scrumptious delicacies of Kurowycky Meat Products.

a front-facing view of Kurowycky

Jerry Jr. didn’t always plan to take over the family business.  Although he worked in the store during his high school years, he then went on to attend NYU and worked as a production assistant at ABC Television.  However, he would soon find that his true passion lay in the family business.  As noted by Lost City, a rent hike didn’t cause Jerry’s decision to close the store- the Kurowyckys owned the building.  It was a changing culture- “Slavic laborers eat ham. Artsy hipsters do not.”

Jerry Kurowycky Jr. saying goodbye to a customer (image courtesy of the New York Times)

The same notion held true with the closing of B&M Meat Market.  Opened in 1997, much later than its smokehouse counterparts, this shop was owned by Bogdan and Maria Tsish.  Little is known about the couple or their history other than that they too, were of Ukrainian descent and their shop closed in 2007.  It is now a trendy Italian tapas restaurant.

the former storefront of B&M Meat Market

In the past few years, the East Village has seen a rise in contemporary Eastern European eating establishments.  Menupages lists 11 establishments that fit this category.  Surely these restaurants are tasty, but do they have a smoker in the backroom and freshly cured kielbasas hanging in the window?  I think not.

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