The Melo Grocery, on St. Marks and Franklin, is for sale. This isn't really a surprise--Franklin Ave has been undergoing a slow but steady commercial boom for the past decade, moving from 69 to 108 functional storefronts from 1999 to 2003--but Melo is no ordinary out-of-business bodega. This shutterd storefront stands alone by virtue of the red, white and blue sign on its door that bears the words "United States Marshal: No Trespassing."
The Marshals? The ones that chase fugitives? The ones that will forever call to mind a wisecracking Tommy Lee Jones crashing around in a sewer after Harrison Ford? What exactly was going on at the Melo Grocery?
News searches don't yield much of anything. This NYT article from 1989 deals with a series of marshal-led raids on cocaine fronts, but doesn't mention anything about Melo, and nothing else pops up. It seems unlikely that the storefront has sat untouched since 1989, but not impossible, and it certainly looks run down enough. If it was a drug den, its appearance fits the bill, complete with a horror-movie-creepy front door that hangs open day and night, though not enough to see in. The realtor might know, but I haven't reached their office yet.
The US Marshal Service does some more mundane things, too, including serving federal court orders. The notice next to the "No Trespassing" sign appears to be something in this vein, though even when you can read it (it's too small to make out in the photo above), it makes almost no sense. The mad-lib style order appears to have been filled out by someone who put the word "court" in every blank after the first one. I'm not a lawyer, but I assume if that made sense, they'd just print the document that way.
So before I let my imagination run wild with sordid images of late-80s NYC, I'd better research this more. This potential drug den might merely have housed a run-of-the-mill federal criminal, along the lines of a tax evader. Of course, at least one legendary Brooklyn-born criminal has been nailed on tax evasion when greater crimes could not be proven.