The orange glow of the neon sign advertising “ROASTED PIG PI” inside Cannuli’s Quality Meats & Poultry in the Italian Market casts an amber hue over anything underneath it, including butcher Larry Schnell.
The sign is supposed to read “ROASTED PIG PICK-UP,” but the last few letters burned out and now it appears to advertise a tasty mathematical constant instead of a pork product.
On the shop’s floor is a thin layer of sawdust, an “old-world” practice butchers have used for centuries, Schnell explained.
“When somebody spills blood on the floor, it easily absorbs it,” he said of the sawdust. “It also takes away odors.”
Schnell, 63, has been bringing home the bacon as a butcher in the Italian Market for 30 years. A Michigan native, he moved to Philly in the late 1980s and got his first job in the Italian Market at Giordano’s Fruit & Produce. Schnell then moved over to the Hollywood Meat Market, where worked for more than 20 years before it closed and he was hired at Cannuli’s.
He walks to work every day from his nearby home that he shares with his wife, Alice Harrison, and their two bulldogs, Moses and Ruby Rose. Harrison has worked in the Italian Market for more than 30 years, too, at Fante’s Kitchen Shop.
Of course, there is a meat-cute story behind how this butcher met his wife.
Paul Giordano, the former owner of Giordano’s Fruit & Produce, had just hired Schnell and told Harrison that he wanted to introduce her to his new employee.
“Now, Paul could be really embarrassing, so I said, ‘Paul, just point him out and I’ll introduce myself,’ ” Harrison said. “It was the lesser of two evils. If I didn’t do that, Paul would have marched me over and made a huge spectacle of it.”
Within minutes of the introduction, Schnell and Harrison, who were both in their 40s at the time, hit it off. Their first date was — where else? — the Italian Market.
Both agree that the Italian Market is like a small town within the city. Everyone knows everyone’s business, but people are supportive and friendly.
Schnell said he loves his job and neighborhood because he genuinely likes people. And it shows, right down to the tips of his petite handlebar mustache that seem to curl up just a little more when he smiles while speaking with customers.
The staff at Cannuli’s is often charged with taking tour groups through the labyrinth of back rooms, meat coolers and massive ovens, where several whole pigs can be roasted at once. The modest storefront belies the size and scope of the operation behind the scenes. On Super Bowl Sunday alone, the shop sold 25 whole pigs.
In the front of the shop, Schnell gestures to a large black-and-white photograph of the Italian Market from the archives at Temple University that papers the wall. He points out a young black man walking down the sidewalk in the photo.
“That is Chubby Checker. He used to work in the Italian Market,” Schnell said.
Schnell is obviously proud of this part of the city he’s made his home — but he has one major beef with the area: The trash.
“You know how Center City has the crews that always clean up? I would love to see that come to this area,” he said. “This is a historical area and it would be more marketable if it was cleaner. I think that’s the biggest complaint from people, there’s so much trash. It’s an eyesore.”
“Why not? It’s a great city.”
What’s been a classic Philly moment for you?
“Winning the Super Bowl.”
If you had a wish for the city, what would it be?
“To be cleaner and nicer people.”
Know someone in the Philadelphia area whose story deserves to be told — or someone whose story you’d like to know? Send suggestions for We the People profiles to Stephanie Farr at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 215-854-4225. Send tips via Twitter to @FarFarrAway.
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