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Fish & Trips

The aftershocks of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York didn't just hit operators who had to deal with empty tables and canceled reservations. For many of the city's seafood restaurants, it meant serious scrambling not just for customers, but for the fish itself.

The venerable Fulton Fish Market, located at the Southern tip of Manhattan and just blocks from Ground Zero, was hastily relocated to the Hunts Point area in the neighboring borough of the Bronx. While the market had just returned to its original digs at press time, operators got an early taste of what life is going to be like for them come 2003, when the facility will move to Hunts Point permanently.

A change of address might not sound like much of an inconvenience, but in New York City, where traffic is a perennial issue, a mere mile can turn into an endless stretch of lost time and money. Hunts Point is not only in one of the city's most desolate sections-it's a full 10 miles away from downtown.

As if that weren't bad enough, the city's long planned 285,000-sq.-ft. new facility in Hunts Point was far from completion on Sept. 11, and restaurateurs and purveyors not only found themselves dumped in unfamiliar territory - the territory was all there was. Some 1,200 trucks, vans, and forklifts negotiated an open-air lot surrounded by mud and high grass.

"You're going into a bunch of 18-wheelers loaded with fish, just running on their own air-conditioning units," complains Jay Shaffer, owner of Manhattan's Shaffer City Oyster Bar & Grill. "I can't have my oysters exposed to the filth up there." Shaffer, like many Manhattan seafood restaurateurs, bypassed the market altogether by having fish flown in from other locations.

Ron Riemer, purchaser for BR Guest Restaurants (which runs Ruby Foo's and Blue Water Grill among others), also chose to skip the long, arduous trip up north to the temporary market. "We didn't buy anything because we were afraid that it wouldn't come in on time," he says. "A lot of us had stuff trucked or flown in. You paid a little more money, but you were assured of delivery."

However, despite the hassles associated of traveling to a remote corner of the city, some operators still eagerly await the Market's permanent move in early 2003, citing the improved facilities that have been promised.

"We're looking forward to [the new site]," says Riemer. "It will be state of the art. We're going to be getting product that's fresher and probably kept under even better sanitary conditions - not in the open air like it is now."

And the tough trek uptown? Reimer, like many operators, is simply resigned. "I haven't heard of any problems going to the Bronx," he says. "If you want fish, you've got to go."

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