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Coney Island legend Jimmy Prince dies, operated popular meat market for 60 years

Prince, 89, was key figure in 'glory days' of Mermaid Avenue

May 7, 2021 Jaime DeJesus,
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The Coney Island community is mourning the death of a local legend.

James Prince, aka Jimmy, the longtime owner of Major Markets Prime Meats on Mermaid Avenue, has died at the age of 89, it was announced via Facebook on May 4.

According to Coney Island historian Charles Denson, Prince began working at the market, which was founded in 1932, in June 1949, when he was 18. Eventually he owned the store and kept it open seven days a week until 2009, when it closed for good. Even after the store closed, Prince remained active in the community.

According to the Coney Island History website, Major Markets was a throwback to the days when Mermaid Avenue was lined with mom-and-pop shops that served a primarily Jewish and Italian-American population. The site adds that the store was one of the few that survived the “economic devastation” of the 1960s and ’70s.

“Jimmy Prince was the kindest man in the world and the brightest light in Coney Island,” Denson said. “Jimmy became ‘Mr. Major,’ and his store became the heart of Coney Island, a refuge during hard times, where people came to find warmth and solace and nourishment.”

He celebrated his 89th birthday this past April and was born in 1932, the same year that the market opened.

The former store, Major Meat Market opened in 1932. Image via “Jimmy Prince: The Prince of Mermaid Avenue.”

The Alliance for Coney Island honored Prince, who celebrated his 89th birthday this past April, with its Legacy Award at the organization’s 2016 gala.

“Seldom do you encounter such a generous and genuine person like Jimmy Prince,” said Alexandra Silversmith, executive director of the Alliance. “I am honored to have known and worked with him. A visionary who believed in Coney Island and Mermaid Avenue and put his heart and soul into his business, he left a lasting impact on our whole community. He will truly be missed.”

Denson also filmed a documentary on him titled, “Jimmy Prince: The Prince of Mermaid Avenue.” During the hour-long piece, Prince shares his life story and love for the store that produced loyal customers. Much of the film shows him behind the counter, interacting with customers.

“This has really been a focal point for a lot of people,” he said. “They come here and have their cup of coffee, chit chat and get together. It’s really like an old general store where people came, sat around the coal stove and chatted about what was happening.

“Here in Coney Island, something’s always happening. You wanted it to be positive because Coney Island deserves the best. It’s the greatest story ever told,” he said in the documentary.

Dick Zigun, founder of Coney Island USA and the unofficial mayor of Coney Island, described Prince as a good friend and longtime supporter.

“Jimmy was a beloved presence in the neighborhood and the owner of Major Markets Prime Meats, a decades-long fixture on Mermaid Avenue,” he said. “After his retirement, he continued to stay active in Coney Island, and was a volunteer at the Coney Island History Project. Our deepest condolences to his friends, family, and all who loved him. We will miss him dearly.”

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