In 1932, Ninth Avenue in Manhattan was something of an outdoor food mall, populated by butchers, fruit and vegetable stands, sweets shops, and bakeries. Hungry weekend shoppers arrived via the elevated train that ran along the avenue, and they'd hop between their favorite stores, stocking up on groceries and trading recipes with neighbors and friends they ran into along the busy street.
1932 was also the year that Giovanni Esposito, originally of Naples, Italy, decided to uproot his popular Mulberry Street meat shop from Little Italy—then truly home to many immigrants, and not the tourist spot it is today—and take it to a new, larger home at the corner of Ninth Avenue and 38th Street.
Esposito's Pork Shop (also known by its more formal name, Giovanni Esposito & Sons) has been a bustling neighborhood institution ever since. Today, it's run by a third-generation owner, Robert, Giovanni's grandson. Robert took over the store when he got out of college, when his father, Theodore, retired from the business.
"You gotta like this job and be dedicated," he said. "It's a lot of hours and hard work." But Robert said that his experiences with his customers more than make up for the blood, sweat and tears he puts into the business.
"You can't get bored here, because every day is different," he said.
On the surface, Esposito's looks like any old "pork store," or butcher shop: cuts of meat, grouped by type, crowd the refrigerator case, and there's not much else for sale other than a few barbecue and tomato sauces. But what sets Esposito's apart from other meat markets is its standards.
"Our number one is quality and freshness," Robert said. "We get meat in every day, we cut it fresh every day. I'm here every day making sure we're running smoothly." Shoppers can get the meat cut any way they like; Robert says that's one reason his customers keep coming back, instead of defecting to nearby supermarkets.
"Butcher shops are a dying breed," he said. "They go out all the time, and new ones don't open in their place." But he said that shoppers miss the personal touch they simply can't get at a grocery store.
"I have people that come in here and say, 'Wow, I haven't seen a place like this in years!'"
Robert said that he hopes to serve the neighborhood for years to come, and with growing residential development in Midtown and Hell's Kitchen, new customers come in every day. "We welcome it," he said.