For most people, growing up in Queens often meant a trip to “the butcher,” “the meat market” or simply “the store.”
The latter may sound vague, but any Queens native knows that does not mean a supermarket or Queens Center mall.
“The store” is that place — larger than a bodega, smaller than a supermarket — where you pick up a meal or two and some snacks for around the house, perhaps beer and a sandwich for a summer day trip, cookies to bring to a potluck party or potato chips to satisfy a craving.
For residents of Old Howard Beach, Sal’s Food Market at 102-10 159 Road is “the store.” The early afternoon rush at Sal’s, located near the Howard Beach subway station, features many of the neighborhood’s older residents stepping in for a bit of lunch. Later in the afternoon, well-dressed residents stop in for a London broil or loaf of bread.
But Sal’s was left devastated by Hurricane Sandy, shuttered after a 6-foot wall of water barreled down 159th Road and into the store, destroying everything.
“We had to throw everything out, all the food, all the equipment, everything,” said Mike Fazio Jr., whose grandfather, Sal Fazio, founded the store in 1946.
Fazio admitted that his father, Mike Sr., considered shutting the store down for good.
“A neighbor came up to us and asked when we’d be reopening,” Fazio said. “We knew we had to do it for this community.” The Fazios realized they owed it to the neighborhood to bring back “the store.”
Work on fixing Sal’s began before Christmas. The market was completely gutted, new equipment was bought. Two of Sal’s employees, Joe Kinsella and Ray Florio, worked to help rebuild the store. Kinsella’s father, a carpenter from Ireland, flew in to assist.
Though fixing the destroyed store seemed like a big undertaking, the Fazios are unfortunately familiar with triumph over tragedy. Two decades after opening his market, Sal Fazio was killed in a car accident in East New York, Brooklyn driving home from work one day.
His son, Mike Sr., then took over the store. He’s been sidelined by a broken leg since last summer.
Then came Sandy, the second time in two years the store was hit by floods. Tropical Storm Irene caused some minor flooding in the store, but was quickly cleaned up.
It took more than three months, but the store finally opened in mid-April.
Fazio said there has been a steady stream of customers since reopening, including one woman who came to Sal’s the day it reopened — with a story.
“She was here the day my grandfather first opened the store,” Fazio said.