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Hector's closes with the meat market at 4 p.m., just as Pastis is getting ready for dinner. "I used to eat at Hector's every day when I owned a wholesale meat place called Ereikousa, named after my home in Greece. I bought Hector's from a Spanish guy. I was tired of being in the meat business. I was all alone, I couldn't take a vacation. Monday to Friday you'd do deliveries; two days a week you'd go around and try to get paid. Here, I have partners, and my son, Spiro, wants to take over the business. I spend a part of each year in Greece. I come in at 7 a.m., have breakfast at 9. Of course I buy my meat from the market. It's my neighborhood too."
It's also the neighborhood of many newly arrived out-of-town investors. Last year, Joe Nemecek's buildingan edifice that also houses the Page Six favorite Hogs & Heiferswas bought up by Starwood Urban Investments, a development group based in Washington, D.C. Starwood told The New York Times it wanted to preserve the neighborhood's edginess and said they were happy to have purchased a building where tenants had no leases or paid month to month. According to Nemecek, Starwood gave Adolf Kusy Co. six months to vacate. Nemecek sued for defamation, a stalling tactic, he says, after the company's representative told Nemecek, "We don't want your type of people in our building." On New Year's weekend, after 75 years at 861 Washington Street, Joe Nemecek moved Adolf Kusy Co. into Sam Farelle's Weichsel Beef Co. building on West Street. "I fought Starwood for the extra time because I didn't want to lose the Christmas business," he says.
"You're a Puerto Rican living on Fifth Avenue" is the way Nemecek's Russian girlfriend describes the neighborhood's sudden status. Nemecek says Starwood raised his rent from $10,000 to $40,000. "Now I'm working as part of Weichsel, but in a separate division. I still own the Kusy name. I'm trying to catch my breath and figure out what to do next." For his part, Sam Farelle, Weichsel's owner, says, "I've been here 35 years. I called Joe because I wanted to keep him in the neighborhood. I was here when Hogs & Heifers was Howley's, a bar that was a nice place to get a sandwich."
Howley's, the meat market's legendary saloon, operated for 50 years at the corner of Washington and West 13th streets. Joe Nemecek's father first took him to Howley's when he was five. "Cops would bring their horses in and tie them up to the bar and drink. My dad smoked Chesterfields all his life, lost a lung. He could walk into Howley's and drink all night and still be at work on time the next morning."
Hard drinking isn't the only thing that characterized the old days in the meat market. Until recently, the neighborhood was home to a raffish sex industry. Across from Hector's Place sits a Deco-ish pink building, empty now, that was once home to the celebrated gay club, the Mine Shaft.
The current level of tolerance is not so high. Neighboring block associations have initiated an aggressive campaign to drive drag queen prostitutes and their cruising johns out of the genteel West Village. "Prostitutes and Drug Dealers, Get Out!" shout flyers glued to the neighborhood's lampposts. Overnight, the posters were obscured with neatly printed stickers that snapped back "We Were Here First!"
Because of the meat market's real estate heat, the Sixth Precinct is making its presence felt, and a six-foot beauty flashing both naked breasts and penis from the middle of the street at two in the morning is a rare sight. Asked where the ladies have gone, a local drag queen says simply, "Locked up or dead." Jimmy, a white transvestite from the South, hasn't been seen in at least a year. Though his drag friends were all African American, he would proclaim, "I don't do shade," as he paraded up West 13th Street in a floor-length gown and platinum wig. Joe Nemecek recalls the drag queen who nightly used the Kusy delivery truck mirrors to put on his makeup. "Hi Joe," he'd say, one eye done, one not, his deep voice belying his thigh-high skirt and heels. "Frankly, I felt safe when they were around," says Nemecek. "They always knew what was going on."
By three in the afternoon, Washington Street is nearly deserted. The barrels of animal ribs, their remaining flesh "denatured" with green dye to indicate they're unfit for consumption, have been hauled away. Steve Brooks is hosing down the sidewalk. The alarm on his white delivery truck goes off angrily about every 20 minutes. The Diamond Meats sign he promised Grace Jones the day she shot a music video in the neighborhood is hanging above his door. She still hasn't come to pick it up. "Eventually, the market's going to disappear," says Brooks. "There's just too much money involved. Rents will double, then triple." Companies that have closed or moved to the Bronx include Plymouth Beef, Endicott Meat & Poultry, Schuster, Lowe Avenue Beef, Royal Veal, and Emerald Food Corp. Still standing are Barry, JT Jobbagy, Louis Zucker & Co., De Bragga & Spitler Inc., Long Island Beef, Lamb Unlimited, Premier Veal, T&M Meat Co., Maggio Beef Corp., R&W, Diamond Meats, Weichsel Beef, and Adolf Kusy Co., Fine Pork and Provisionsbut who knows for how long?