For A New York Fish Store, Integrity Pays Off—Big Time

April 25th, 2014
Jim Thomas

You will find this gem of a fish store exactly where it has stood  for four generations, on East Houston Street on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. Its owners and managers are the Russ family, heirs of the great grandfather who founded it a century ago. He started out peddling smoked herring from a pushcart in a teeming Jewish Ghetto.

Nothing remains the same. The neighborhood has changed. New York has changed. Diet and food consumption have changed. The old-fashioned grocery is virtually a thing of the past. The druggies and prostitutes that once plagued the area have come and gone. Russ & Daughters remains steadfastly in place, purveyors of mackerel, sturgeon, kippered salmon, smoked salmon, whitefish, and the like.

And it has flourished. Today, the store continues serving herds of dedicated walk-in customers, but it also takes orders online and ships fish by FedEx. Believe it or not, it now employs behind the counter a Sherpa fish-slicer conversant in Yiddish.

Why, through it all, from pushcart to revered institution, has Russ & Daughters prevailed? Because, it settled on a set of time-tested standards for doing business. They were the right standards, from which deviation was unacceptable. It was dedicated to its physical place and location in the City’s scheme of things. Its owners scoured fishing boats and smokehouses for the finest products available. Employees were obsessed with customer satisfaction and an abiding cheerfulness toward each who entered their shop, even the difficult and the obnoxious.

The cardinal virtue of integrity invokes an adhesion to standards; those that withstand scrutiny, that one way or another are beneficial to all concerned, irrespective of the inconvenience or difficulty. Across four generations, the Russes have known these truths and practiced them. And, they have reaped the rewards.


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