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The Nation

Fulton Fish Market Is History

After 183 years, the fishmongers are moving from Manhattan to a new home in the Bronx.

November 13, 2005|David Lepeska | Newsday

NEW YORK — When the Fulton Fish Market settles into its shiny new digs in the Bronx early Monday morning, Brooklyn native Anthony DeMuria will retire. He'd rather go out with the only workplace he has ever known.

"I'm not goin' up there. I'm never goin' up there," said DeMuria, 58, who has hawked seafood in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge for more than 40 years. "I'm gonna go fishing."

After decades spent searching for a new home and about a year of legal wrangling, the shopworn monument to a bygone blue-collar Manhattan has sold its last salmon.

Friday, lawyers for the city, the fish market's 38 wholesalers and Laro Service Systems reached agreement on unloading rights, the last obstacle to the long-planned migration from South Street to an $85-million facility in Hunts Point.

Laro, chosen by the Giuliani administration in 1995 to avoid involvement by potentially mob-influenced companies, will maintain sole rights to unloading fish at the new facility for three years. It will pay the city $300,000 over that time.

The relocation of the fish market, which grew out of a few stalls in the old Fulton Market in 1822, first was broached in 1974. Even after the Bronx site was chosen about five years ago and the new complex was built, the legal tussle between wholesalers and the city, both seeking valuable unloading rights, and Laro, which controlled the rights, caused delays.

"Happy that it's over and that we can put it behind us," Laro chief executive Robert Bertuglia said. "The new facility will mean fresher fish and more sanitary conditions, so this deal is great for the wholesalers, great for their business and great for the public."

The old hands at the dilapidated market had their own opinions as they went about their predawn business.

Fishmonger Dino Fiorentino said he believed that at least one part of the market is eternal.

"The smell of fish is always going to be here," Fiorentino, 54, said of the pungent odor that hugs the southeastern tip of Manhattan.

"Even if they dig up the ground, it will never go away."

Tony Mallica, a.k.a. Tony Lobster, who has been working outside for 35 years, said, "They're taking something that had a lot of character, a lot of depth, and giving us what? The new building is very long and shiny, but they haven't shown me any way business will be better."

"And you can't really see the sunrise from inside," his son, working nearby, said morosely.

The closing inspired normally stoic fishmongers to embrace and snap photos of each other arm-in-arm. Bobby DeGregrio, who has been with Lightning Seafood for 33 years, made a toast with homemade red wine, donated by a customer.

"To all the men who came before," he said.

And he tipped his foam cup and poured a little onto the slimy pavement.

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