Need a Bible? Check the shelf under the Spanish olives. Want a new case for the iPhone that came out in 2009? Behind the counter.
The business opened in 1945 as a meat store, but the slicer and grinder have been moved to a table in the back, unplugged for years as the place slowly changed into a cross between a bodega and a bachelor’s stuffy living room.
That bachelor is Vincent Taliercio, 65, the grandson of the original owner from the meat store days. He ran the aisles as a little boy of 5 or 6, arrived for work full time in 1986 alongside his mother and two brothers, outlived them all, and now stands behind the counter, owner of a store with a staff of one.
“I work 98 hours a week, seven days,” he said Wednesday. That’s after he cut back, opening later on doctor’s orders. “Otherwise, I’d be with my brothers,” he said. “Underground.”
The Smith Union Market remains a sanctuary for the corner elders who come and go, so much so that Vinny, as Mr. Taliercio is known, is rarely alone in his tiny store, the days and nights filled with lively exchanges.Photo
A statue of St. Anthony stands among odds and ends on a shelf at the Smith Union Market in Brooklyn. The market has evolved from a meat shop when it opened in 1945 into a convenience store supplemented by bric-a-brac.
In 2015, someone took a great interest in particular conversations taking place in the market: phone calls between Mr. Taliercio and a man named Gennaro Geritano that the authorities began recording with a wiretap. On the recordings, like one created Feb. 14, 2015, Mr. Taliercio, according to a recent indictment, said things like this:
“Michigan State’s two-and-a-half, 37-and-a-half. Clemson is nine, no total. Xavier is eight and 48.”
Almost two years passed without incident. Then, last month, strangers arrived at the store in Carroll Gardens.
“They come in and they say, ‘Turn around,’ and they put cuffs on me,” Mr. Taliercio said. “‘What’s this about?’ ‘You’ll find out when you see your friends.’”
The arrest was part of a sweep described in a Dec. 15 news release issued by the office of the New York attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, describing “lucrative loan sharking and gambling activities closely controlled by the Genovese Organized Crime Family.”
The indictment charged 13 men and explained the structure of the family, with its capos and soldiers, made members and associates. It identified “an offshore wire room in Costa Rica” that the defendants used to place sports wagers, with bettors settling their accounts in Brooklyn. Mr. Taliercio was identified as an associate who “served as the money collector/distributor of illegal gambling proceeds,” the indictment stated.
He posted bail and was released and returned to the store. Last week, he shook his head, but answered questions.Photo
“I was doing favors for friends,” Mr. Taliercio said, pleading ignorance of the suspected broad criminal gambling operation that prompted the indictment.
“I was doing favors for friends,” he said. “If I knew it was going to lead to bigger and better things, I never would have done it.”
He said he used to gamble but quit in 1992. If a friend wanted to put a bet down on a game — “$20 bets, $30 bets — he put them in touch with people he knew who were involved in the website, a group that did not include him. “I don’t even have a computer,” he said.
He was presented with the transcript of the telephone recordings cited in the indictment mentioned above.
“I’m telling the odds on the game,” he said last week. He looked at an excerpt from another recording — “I gave you Derek, Buckwheat, Joe Twin, and I got Ania now” — and explained. “That’s money I collected,” he said. “I’m saying they showed up.”
He paused as a young man placed two large beers on the counter. Mr. Taliercio asked if he had identification. Nope, the customer said, leaving empty-handed. It is a longstanding belief among the youth of Carroll Gardens that quite often at the store, that sort of transaction occurs with the exact opposite outcome, but Mr. Taliercio said he was vigilant.
“Most of them have ID,” he said. “I don’t know where they get it.”
Back to the case at hand, Mr. Taliercio said the store itself was his best defense.
“The papers wrote it like we’re members of the Genovese crime family,” he said. “I work 98 hours a week, seven days a week. No mobster works those hours.”