December is South Village Month, when we celebrate the incredible neighborhood south of Washington Square and West 4th Street. Village Preservation kicked off the effort to preserve this endangered historic neighborhood in December 2006, and completed the process in December 2016 with the designation of the third and final phase of our proposed South Village Historic District.
It is impossible to deny the influence that Italian culture and immigration has had on our neighborhoods. This is especially true in the South Village, an area which in the early 1900s was a predominantly Italian neighborhood, and one near and dear to Village Preservation’s heart, as we led the successful campaign to secure landmark designation for the area over more than ten years.
The rise and popularity of Italian-American cuisine were facilitated by businesses owned by Italian Americans, including grocery stores, restaurants, and pizzerias. These establishments played a crucial role in introducing Italian-American dishes to a broader audience, as well as cementing cuisine as an important attribute of Italian American culture. One can trace the evolution of Italian American cuisine through the rise of the many beloved food businesses in the South Village that have now become neighborhood institutions and historic sites.
In the US, Italian immigrants could afford to invest significantly in food, leading to a culinary transformation that emphasized meat, cheese, and eggs. On the entrepreneurial side, food businesses were extremely common, as the opening and ownership of small businesses was one of the ways New York City immigrants could make a living. Italian entrepreneurs often employed their own families, which was especially common in food businesses where skills had to be taught. Butcher shops and meat markets became incredibly common, not only to meet the demands of the burgeoning meat-centric Italian American cuisine, but also because butchering was a valuable skill that could be passed on in families, allowing the new generation to transition from unskilled to skilled work.
Here are a few examples of beloved butcher shops and meat markets in the South Village, some of which are more than one hundred years old and remain in the hands of their founding families:
S. Ottomanelli & Sons Prime Meats
S. Ottomanelli & Sons is the oldest family-owned and operated meat retailer in New York, known for offerings of wild game and exotic meats. Onofrio Ottomanelli learned the trade from his paternal grandmother in Bari, Italy. Although born in Manhattan in 1917, he was raised in Italy. Ottomanelli returned to the United States in 1938, in time to be drafted not long after during World War II. Wounded during the war, he resumed his training with his brother Joseph at their uncle Joseph’s shop in Yorkville. He opened his own shop on Bleecker Street, and through several relocations, the store has always been on Bleecker Street — apropos of Ottomanelli’s motto, “live, work, and trade in the Village.” Onofrio Ottomanelli passed away in 2000, but his sons and grandson continue to run the business today at its location at 285 Bleecker Street.
Florence Prime Meat Market
Another butcher shop, Florence Prime Meat Market, on Jones Street, was opened in 1936 by Jack Ubaldi, and still retains its original narrow retail space, sawdust-covered floors, and real butcher blocks. Ubaldi’s apprentice, Tony Pelligrino, purchased the business in 1976. When Pelligrino retired in 1996, he sold it to Benny Pizzuco, who continued the shop’s tradition of offering high-quality meat.
In 2022, Pizzuco planned to let the place’s lease expire and shut the business’s doors for good. However, in the eleventh hour, the business was sold to butcher Aristeo Quiñonez, who now runs the operation with his adult children.
Faicco’s Italian Specialties
A native of Naples, Edward Faicco had an established pork store on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy in 1900. In the mid-1940s, Edward Faicco’s grandsons, Thomas and Edward J. Faicco, purchased 260 Bleecker Street and made it the new home of their family’s pork shop with their sister Ann. Ann Faicco was unusual in that she was a woman who learned her family’s meat-processing skills. In 1999, Eddie Faicco changed the name of the store from “Faicco’s Pork Store” to “Faicco’s Italian Specialties,” and added a selection of prepared foods made in the small kitchen at the back of the store, mostly from family recipes.
Mimi Sheraton, who lived in the Village, praised the food along Bleecker Street, stating “Still the heart of the Village’s old Italian neighborhood, Bleecker Street excels in Italian food stores.” The food businesses that were brought to Greenwich Village by Italian Immigrants and their descendants are still enjoyed by Village residents to this day.
- Mary Elizabeth Brown. The Italians of the South Village, Commissioned by Village Preservation, October 8, 2007.
- Mimi Sheraton. “Food Guide to Stores and Dining.” The New York Times, May 27, 1977.
- Lincoln Anderson. “A Slice of Old Greenwich Village Is Saved as Workers Take over Classic Butcher Shop.” The Village Sun, March 28, 2022.