Coney ‘Prince’ closing shop-Mermaid Avenue butcher retiring after 60 years

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The end of an era has come to Coney Island. Jimmy Prince -- the highly regarded and well-respected proprietor of Major Prime Meats on Mermaid Avenue -- says he’s ready to retire at the end of the month after more than a half-century in the community.

“I could go on working here forever,” said Prince, 77. “I love Coney Island.”

Prince, known for his ready smile and meticulous shirt and tie, has been manning the butcher counter at 1516 Mermaid Avenue since 1949. He officially took over the little shop in the shadow of the Stillwell Avenue subway station in 1972.

With Coney Island slated for massive zoning changes, a frustrated Prince says he is unsure of what will happen to the building that has housed Major Prime Meats since 1932.

“I could count on one hand the people who have said they are happy that condos are coming,” Prince said. “There’s so much bickering and nonsense going on. To see it going the way it’s going now... there should never be any doubt what Coney Island is meant to be - amusements and entertainm­ent.”

In Jimmy Prince’s eyes, Coney Island is still a jewel that just needs to be “put in the right setting.” He says he’d welcome a new hotel or convention center in the neighborhood, but he doesn’t want to see the amusement district whittled down.

“MAS (municipal Art Society) certainly had a wonderful plan laid out,” Prince said. “I’d love to see the area brought up to date with better housing conditions. There are so many wonderful people here. They have to put up with a lot that people don’t have to put up with in other areas. People don’t want to move -- they just want to see conditions made better. A lot of them are paying high rents. They should be afforded better facilities -- especially the seniors. They’ve done so much for this county.”

Born and bred in Marine Park, Prince doesn’t plan on leaving Brooklyn after he retires. The Coney Island History Project has officially designated him a “distinguis­hed historian.” In his new role, Prince will share his vast knowledge of Coney Island with visitors to the History Project’s exhibition center located at the world famous Cyclone roller-coaster on Surf Avenue.

Coney Island History Project Director Charles Denson has also made Prince the subject of a forthcoming documentary slated to premiere this summer.

Prince’s advice to the businesses and developers that will succeed him in Coney Island is simple.

“Just treat people the way you like to be treated,” he said. “Give it the effort. Go all out to please them.”

Throughout his 60 years on Mermaid Avenue Prince said that he tried to make his butcher shop -- with its brightly illuminated store windows, sawdust floors and outside seating area -- feel like a bit like home.

“I don’t have roll-down gates,” he points out.

While he’s happy to give up the daily 12-hour shifts behind the counter to spend more time with his seven children and 13 grandchildren, Prince says that the best part of the job has been “just coming to work every day and meeting these nice people.”

It seems like everyone that walks in Prince’s shop these days is asking about the closing.

“The message is going out now, “Prince said. “I find it very difficult to tell them. It will be a sad occasion for me when we close.”

Updated 3:33 pm, October 19, 2011
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