- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

NEW YORK - In a pristine Bronx building more than four football fields long, the smell of the future floats in: a whiff of fish that hits the nose when Frank Minio enters.

The fish vendor has just arrived at the empty new edifice from his overnight work at Manhattan’s Fulton Fish Market, which each year sells about $1 billion worth of seafood from around the globe — one of the largest markets of its kind, along with those in Tokyo, London and Sydney, Australia.

In July, after more than 180 years, the sea of open stalls by the Brooklyn Bridge is to move to its South Bronx home. Under an American flag flying from its 50-foot ceiling, the market will offer everything from Maryland crab, tuna from Trinidad and red snapper from South Africa to Long Island porgies and Canadian lobster, still wiggling.

“It’ll be 400,000 square feet of fresh seafood — the largest fish market in the Western Hemisphere,” says George Maroulis, manager of the South Bronx venue.

For the men at Fulton, it’s been a long, hard goodbye to the old market that first opened in the early 1800s by the East River during the city’s seafaring heyday. The next weeks will see the last breaths of a dying tradition: the open-air market coming alive with boisterous bartering starting after midnight and winding down as the dawn sun lights the red-brick storefronts and cobblestone streets under Wall Street’s financial towers.

“The move will be like falling asleep in the 19th century and waking up in the 21st century,” says Mr. Maroulis.

The vendors are to pack up after business ends at daybreak on a Friday, reopening Sunday at midnight in their new digs in the Hunts Point neighborhood, about a 10-mile drive away.

The fishmongers are still in the process of “customizing” their individual spaces, said Janel Patterson of the New York City Economic Development Corp., which oversees the market.

Barring any unforeseen hurdles, July 18 is the target date for opening the $80 million-plus, state-of-the-art facility, Mr. Maroulis said.

The move was inevitable. For one thing, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires that all fish must be refrigerated indoors.

Modernizing means a well-lighted, indoor space climate-controlled at 41 degrees to keep seafood fresh, rather than sitting outdoors exposed to temperatures ranging from single digits in winter to sweltering summer heat.

Water-draining trenches line the concrete central hall, with both hot and cold water running into the stainless-steel sinks. Stairs lead up to the offices of each company, where amenities such as showers sit behind glass facades marked with names of businesses stretching as far as the eye can see. Underneath each company space is it refrigeration boxes.

Outside in the mammoth parking lot, the monster trucks delivering seafood packed on ice will drive straight up to docking bays, rather than squeezing through the cramped, zigzag streets of Lower Manhattan. Business hours will be flexible compared with the old market, which is always under pressure to clear out before the morning rush hour descends on Manhattan’s business district.

Still, some old-timers say they’ll miss the seasons and the fresh-air freedom.

“The new place looks like an airport hangar, or a jail. It has no windows where we’ll work. It’ll be like an office job,” says Ziggy Galarza, 44, who has spent more than half his life selling fish outdoors at Fulton, where vendors gross an average of $1,500 a week each.

The old market has been one of New York’s most colorful fixtures since it opened on Feb. 5, 1822. Fulton offered what the Pittsfield (Mass.) Sun once called “the handsomest exhibition of Beef, Mutton, Pork ever presented to the public.”

The city chose the site because the nearby Fulton Ferry could reach Long Island farmers who provided New York with vegetables. Within the next decade, fish merchants had their own space, and it’s stayed that way, though no fish have arrived by boat in about three decades. Instead, they’re flown in through Kennedy International Airport or trucked in from as far away as Florida and Canada.

After the move, the city-owned waterfront will go upscale, likely with luxury condominiums, restaurants and designer stores joining the gentrified South Street Seaport that also offers attractions such as historic tall ships.

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