When Annette Traverso's grandfather, Tom Lazio, and his partners opened their wholesale fish company in the 1940s, only men were allowed to handle, clean, and sell fish. "Women stayed upstairs keeping the books," Traverso says. But after Lazio died in 1998, Traverso, her two sisters, their mom, and their grandmother took over.
Today, Alioto-Lazio Fish Company sells salmon, petrale sole, halibut, and more to the public from a countertop set on wooden crates at 440 Jefferson Street. Inside the store, ruddy, thick-legged West Coast crabs skitter along the bottom of saltwater tanks; nearby, whole fish and fillets glisten on beds of chopped ice.
"People come in and say, 'Oh, that's what fresh fish looks like,'" Traverso says.
Though souvenir shops seem to outnumber fisherfolk in the neighborhood these days, Pier 45 is still home to a working fleet that hearkens back to Gold Rush days when Italian fishermen plied the seas. Adjacent to Pier 45, the small, nondenominational Fishermen's and Seamen's Memorial Chapel is easy to miss but worth a visit. The pretty chapel—its side altars draped in fishnets—was completed in 1978 and honors those who have been lost at sea.
Every year in the fall, the Italian American community celebrates its ties to the ocean with the two-day Madonna del Lume (Mother of Light) celebration and blessing of the fleet. It begins with a service at the chapel, followed by a parade of fishing boats, with flowers and memorial wreaths tossed into the waters beneath the Golden Gate Bridge. The next day, brass bands and commercial floats make their way from Sts. Peter and Paul Church at Washington Square to Fisherman's Wharf, where boats receive a sprinkling of holy water along with prayers for safety and a prosperous catch.