ASTORIA, N.Y. – Any time, day or night, 365 days a year, people with a hankering for an apple, peach, pear or something more exotic can find it at the uniquely Greek United Brothers Fruit Market on 30th Avenue here.
Opened in 1969 in Manhattan by five Greeks – two sets of brothers – and moved here in 1974, the sprawling, 3000-foot fruit store is an outpost that caters to those who want a taste of what their owners said they missed in the old country when they came to the United States.
Featured in a New York Times piece, the market comes across as what it is: a great place to find fresh fruit, and some slightly-less-fresh at knockdown prices, drawing some 3,000 customers a day from Greek grandmothers to Brooklyn hipsters, workers, professionals and fruit connoisseurs.
Customers are met by ubiquitous mist spraying down on the fare: Hass avocados, yucas, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatillos and rows and racks of fruits and vegetables, everything you need to make a Greek salad or a single piece to satisfy a quick craving as you walk by.
Sophia Konstantinides, 65, who lives on Long Island but grew up in Astoria, makes a nightly stop on her way home from work as an insurance broker. “I pop into Queens, do my shopping and then hit the parkway,” she said, cradling a head of broccoli like a bouquet. “It’s like I came home with flowers.”
All night long, spotlights dimly shine on the brick building above, creating a soft glow over the avenue’s array of goods. Commuters stream in from the nearby subway to grab a late-night peach, plum or pear, choosing from curbside bins chock-full of them, especially a specialty: varieties of apples.
Tom Kourkoumelis, 61, the only United Brothers brother who has not retired to Florida, still spends 10 hours at the store most days, as he has for the better part of four decades (not counting the occasional vacation in Greece).
In 1969, Tom and his brothers, Jerry and George, joined the wave of Greeks escaping economic stagnation, island-hopping from Cephalonia to Manhattan, unknowingly alongside two other brothers, Spiro and Damianos Matafias. In New York, the quintet met and sought fruit, Greek-style.
Vito Genna, 55, sifted through string beans as rush hour cooled down. He has lived in Astoria since 1982 but works in Manhattan, where he has witnessed the spread of the store’s influence. “One guy I worked with in SoHo would come all the way up here from downtown,” he told the Times.
“When I was a doorman in the Upper East Side last summer, one of my tenants came home with a United Brothers bag. I said, ‘Hey, you were in my neighborhood!’