Fred the Butcher Buonanno (1939-2011)
Born in July 1939 in Moiano, a small city in southern Italy near Naples, Buonanno boarded a U.S.-bound ship in December 1960, emigrating in pursuit of a better life for himself and eventually, he hoped, his 13 siblings. He came directly to the Capital Region, where cousins had settled, and by the end of the decade had summoned 10 brothers and sisters to upstate New York. (Three remained in Italy.)
“He was in construction first — that was the only thing open to immigrants — but it was his dream to own a butcher shop,” said his sister Maria Marchio of Albany, the ninth of 14 Buonanno children. Although not formally trained as a butcher in Italy, Buonanno had tended to his family’s livestock while growing up and had a passionate interest in raising animals for quality meat, Marchio said.
After working for a butcher in Albany for a few years, Buonanno opened his first shop, Village Meat Market, in Schaghticoke, in 1979, and later moved to Mechanicville, where he ran afoul of local officials in a colorful drama involving a life-size fiberglass bull named Handsome. Buonanno battled with the Mechanicville zoning board over the anatomically correct bull in 1994. It became an issue again in 1999, this time with the Halfmoon planning board, when he moved his shop, by then called Fred the Butcher, to a strip mall in the town. The bull now has its own concrete paddock in front of the latest Fred the Butcher location, a large, standalone building on Route 9 in Halfmoon that opened in December.
The Fred The Butcher tradition continues under the direction of his son Alexander with help from brother Michael and many family members along with long time employees.
“He was totally dedicated to his work,” said nephew Nick Marchio of Slingerlands, who is Maria Marchio’s son. “It really was the only thing that mattered to him.”
“He needed the butcher shop,” said Maria Marchio. “He didn’t have hobbies, he didn’t take vacations. Six, seven days a week — he worked. When a customer said, ‘That was the best steak I ever had,’ that was his reward.”
Longtime customers remembered Buonanno as a demonstrative character prone to loud, joking chastisement if they confessed to buying supermarket fare, and for providing meat so tasty they were disinclined to shop elsewhere.