What Happened to Little Italy?


Chef Franco | Little Italy, NYC

This post is a continuation of the blog post made on 5/19/10, Not what it was, Little Italy-NYC.

Numerous people have asked me in the days after the 5/19 post what do I think happened to NYC’s Little Italy? Why has it deteriorated so much? Since I live only blocks away from the neighborhood and once worked as a chef in Little Italy what did I feel caused the demise of a once-great neighborhood? “Little Italy”!

In my humble opinion, and having family myself that came from Italy to the United States via Little Italy back in the first half of the 19oo’s all I can say is a great upward mobile flight by the children of the Italian immigrants is what began the downward spiral of Little Italy.

I grew up hearing stories from time to time about how beautiful Little Italy was, what a great neighborhood it was, and how the foods and feasts were always something to look forward to.

This is a far cry from today’s Little Italy. The Feast of San Gennaro is pretty much the only feast left and there is always controversy with the city over if it should continue or not. The food in Little Italy has a poor reputation these days and the “foodies” of NYC typically avoid the area because of this mediocre food reputation and tourist crowds.

The Italian specialty shops are pretty much nonexistent and the few that are left are not enough to help uplift the entire neighborhood. The biggest draws for food in Little Italy are Angelo’s and Il Cortile two restaurants that are still very good but mostly enjoyed by the “bridge and tunnel crowds” from outside of the city. The tourists usually meander up Mulberry St. looking for a quick bite and a cheap deal, as they make their way towards their real points of interest in Soho and NoLita. Catering to the tourist crowd instead of the New Yorkers is one of the main downfalls of Little Italy.

In a nutshell, this is what happened to Little Italy, New Your City

Little Italy was a neighborhood-based on immigrants, that came from Italy starting in the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundred. These early Italians had a safe haven in a city and country they knew nothing about let alone speak, read, or write English. Most of the first wave of immigrants never assimilated into the city or America for that matter. This kept Little Italy very much alive and thriving!

The comfort of being able to communicate in their own language and stay close and near to the people and customs they could relate to was a huge factor in not leaving the neighborhood. Time moves on and eventually, the first and second-generation children of these immigrants become educated and assimilated into NYC, and become Americanized.. wanting more than what Little Italy has to offer them. These now Italian-Americans leave the neighborhood in search of their fame and fortune outside of the old neighborhood and enter into the American Dream.

Little Italy has now done its job and off goes the Italian American youth of the neighborhood to capture the American dream. Eventually, over time the only ones left are the old-timers and the few families that never left. The ones left behind can’t maintain and keep the vibrancy of the neighborhood alive and the neighborhood begins to go through changes. Many of the first and second generations that left the neighborhood did make successes of their lives far beyond the dreams of their parents or grandparents.  Unfortunately, many of them never seem to get involved in the now old neighborhood and show an interest in the preservation or gentrification of it. Italian-Americans must unite to change what has happened to New York’s-Little Italy, it’s not too late. With unification and determination, Little Italy could be uplifted and given its “Italian Cultural Renaissance” it so desperately needs and deserves! I regret to say that if a renaissance of this sort does not take place and empowered by the governmental agencies of New York City, for sure the upcoming generations of New Yorkers and Italian-Americans alike won’t have a Little Italy to even write about!

“At this point, Little Italy is like a mother that gives and gives and never receives anything back in return from her children. Eventually, she becomes old, run-down, and tired!” 

        Little Italy | NYC