Fiorella’s Sausage, in business for 125 years in the Italian Market neighborhood of South Philadelphia, is up for sale after closing its doors in January.
The family-run shop suspended operations just over nine months ago, when fourth-generation proprietor Dan Fiorella fell ill. Shortly after he recovered, his mother passed away. At that point, Fiorella and his wife Trish made the decision that it was time to move on, according to Kevin O’Connor, the real estate agent handling the property.
“It’s bittersweet,” said O’Connor, who happens to be Fiorella’s nephew. “I grew up there. All my holidays, my Thanksgivings, we had Easter egg hunts there.” His uncle Dan is now healthy, O’Connor said, “but he really can’t do it anymore.”
A butcher by trade who started working for his father as a sophomore in high school in the 1970s, Fiorella was personally responsible for most of the small store’s daily churn, arriving at 7 a.m. six days a week. He had one helper, a Mexican immigrant who’d worked by his side for a decade, but no apparent heir.
Though the location had been run by members of the family since Luigi Fiorella arrived from Italy in 1892, Dan was well aware the mercantile heirloom might stop with him. His daughter, a successful dental hygienist, had no desire to take on the meat biz, he said. An attempt to convince her husband to run things also fell through. “I wasn’t forced into the business,” Fiorella said a couple of years ago, “so I wouldn’t force them.” He had hopes the sixth generation would show interest, but his grandson is just a toddler.
Friends and neighbors in the busy South Ninth Street district were aware the Fiorellas had been looking for someone to take over the shop. “Buying just the business is an option,” said O’Connor, although he couldn’t offer details. “That would be negotiable with the family.”
As of now, the building at 817 Christian St., which was purchased by Luigi back in 1904, is officially on the block for $775,000.
The listing dutifully documents the building’s amenities — 2,040 square feet across three floors with an apartment up top and a turnkey store downstairs — but it can’t capture the charm of the iconic spot, which had become a beloved landmark.
Below the pig-shaped sign, carved by Dan Fiorella himself, was a store that looked and felt like it was from an earlier time.
While Fiorella made some gestures toward modernization (after his father passed away in 2008, for example, he started accepting credit cards), all of the meat was still cut and ground by hand before being stuffed into natural casing. He never used any preservatives. A 220-lb. brass National Cash Register, purchased by Luigi back in the day, still held the cash for the day’s business. The centers of the butcher blocks on which the links were folded into tidy brown paper had sunken from decades of use.
The family recipes had also stayed the same since the store first opened, Fiorella said — coarse-ground pork shoulder with salt, pepper and optional fennel — and the sausages were a winter holiday tradition for many Philadelphians. The weekend before Christmas was usually the busiest time, when the shop could put out anywhere from 900 to 1,200 pounds in a single day.
But it looks like December 2017 was the last of those busy seasons for Fiorella’s Sausage — unless someone steps up to take it over. Otherwise, the property is likely to be redeveloped.
O’Connor, the realtor nephew, clarified that both options were on the table: “The building is for sale, as is the store.”