Sunnyside butcher lives American Dream

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Looking for the kind of butcher shop where the proprietor knows everyone’s name? Look no further than Las Americas Meat Market, which has operated in Sunnyside for 30 years. But do not look for it on Greenpoint Avenue — the store just moved into a new location at 45−62 46th St.

Las Americas opened the 2,500−sq­uare−foot storefront Nov. 1 after five months of preparation and a small real estate crisis. The previous landlord was preparing to raise the store’s rent from $7,000 a month to $13,000 a month at 45−12 Greenpoint Ave., said Luz Lopez−Shalom, daughter of the store’s founders and now a partner in the business.

Facing prospects of higher rents everywhere in the neighborhood, the family took out a loan and purchased their new storefront property.

“Good things come from bad things,” Lopez−Shalom said. “From here on, nobody’s going to raise our rent. And 30 years from now, our kids are going to inherit this.”

In addition to USDA choice and prime meats, the shop offers beans, baking ingredients, crackers and beverages from Argentina, Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador and Mexico as well as the Lopez family’s native Colombia.

It also gets customers from a wide array of backgrounds, from Colombians and Ecuadorians to Romanians and Nepalese.

One customer at the shop, who identified himself as “Tasti,” came to Sunnyside from Nepal and works at a restaurant in the neighborhood.

“My company uses this shop many times,” he said.

Lopez−Shalom chalked up the shop’s longevity in part to her staff of butchers, who clowned around with her while a reporter took photographs. Workers have been with the shop for as long as 19 years. One, who just retired, had worked for the Lopezes since 1978, Lopez−Shalom said.

“We’re here 10, 11 hours a day,” Lopez−Shalom said. “We have to have a good sense of humor. In a way, we are like a family.”

Because the shop is popular among Latin American communities, many new immigrants show up not just for meat, but for help with the basics, Lopez−Shalom said.

“People come in here to ask, ‘How do I turn on the electricity in my house?’ or ‘How do I get my kid in school?’ ” said Steve Ramirez, Lopez−Sh­alom’s nephew. “The community looks at it as a resource.”

Libaniel and Libia Lopez came from Colombia in the late 1960s. Libaniel, a butcher, opened up a shop on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights in 1975. But a falling out with his business partners led him to seek his fortune in Sunnyside. Las Americas opened in 1978 with money gathered by the family’s teenage sons, who delivered newspapers and cleaned nightclubs, the family said.

Their first location was an abandoned bookstore on 45th Street, where the family operated for 20 years. Libaniel and his son, Daniel, would drive to Manhattan’s Meatpacking District at 4:30 a.m. to select the meats and get them to the shop before Daniel, who was 16 in 1978, had to be at Newtown High School.

These days the family still selects meat from the same vendors. Ramirez, who continues to help with the meat selection, recalled the earlier days.

“Those guys would try to throw meat at us [without letting us examine it], like, ‘You take this,’ ” Ramirez said. “They’ll try to push you around. But we became friends with them.”

The store moved to 45−12 Greenpoint Ave. in 1997, where they operated a restaurant alongside the butcher counter.

But for all the challenges posed by vendors and real estate, Lopez and Ramirez agreed that the hardest part was running a business with family members.

“It takes a special relationship to overcome the arguments, overcome the differences and realize you have the same goal,” Ramirez said.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

Posted 6:40 pm, October 10, 2011
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