I was walking by the old Cobble Hill butcher, Staubitz Market, when I saw this sandwich board on the sidewalk. "New York's Oldest Butcher Shop." Whoa there, Nelly. I always knew Staubitz was old. It was founded in 1917. But the oldest? I had never heard of the shop boasting of that claim before. Could that be true?
I am innately suspicious of shops and bars and restaurants that assert their historical primacy. In New York, where documentation on many old businesses is far from complete, and where owners have a tendency, and commercial incentive, to brag and make fraudulent claims, one can rarely be completely sure that something is the "oldest" or "first." So I began to look around.
The main challenge to Staubitz's boast would seem to be Ottomanelli Brothers, the famous family-owned business on York Avenue in Yorkville. It says right there on the sign, "Since 1900." But that date comes with a big asterisk. True, Gennaro Ottomanelli came to the U.S. from Bari in 1900 and entered the meat business. But it appears that his first couple decades were behind a pushcart, not in a standing butcher shop, and he seems to have returned to Bari at some point. Furthermore, the separate family stores, one of Bleecker, called O. Ottomanelli & Sons, and the other on York—founded by different branches of the family—didn't open up until the 1930s and early 1940s. So, the shop has old roots, but is not necessarily the oldest butcher.
Esposito Meat Market on Ninth Avenue in Hell's Kitchen could have a claim, if it chose to argue it. The butcher was founded in 1933 in its current location. But, according to the store's history, Giovanni Esposito actually moved to New York much earlier and that, opening a butcher in Little Italy, and only closing it in 1924 when he was forced to return to his native Italy. "The Historic Shops and Restaurants of New York," have Giovanni opening that first shop in 1892. Add up all the years Esposito has been in business, and it beats Staubitz. Still, those years weren't consecutive, so Staubitz could easily dismiss the challenge.
But it is Faicco Italian Specialties on Bleecker in Greenwich Village that really does Staubitz in. It's been at 260 Bleecker since 1950, but according to "The Historic Shops and Restaurants of New York," it spent a half century before that on Thompson Street south of Houston. That would make it much older than Staubitz. Backing this up, a New York Times article in 2000 stated, "Faicco's was opened on Thompson Street in 1900 by Mr. Faicco's grandfather and moved to Bleecker Street in the 1940's." 117 years old. That's more than 92.
Maybe "Brooklyn's Oldest Butcher Shop"?