Little Italy, Manhattan

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Little Italy
Sign above Mulberry Street at Broome Street
Location in New York City
Coordinates: 40°43′08″N 73°59′49″W / 40.719°N 73.997°W / 40.719; -73.997Coordinates: 40°43′08″N 73°59′49″W / 40.719°N 73.997°W / 40.719; -73.997
Country United States
State New York
CityNew York City
Community DistrictManhattan 3[1]
ZIP Code
Area codes212, 332, 646, and 917
Chinatown and Little Italy Historic District
NRHP reference No.10000012
Added to NRHPFebruary 12, 2010

Little Italy (also Italian: Piccola Italia) is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan in New York City, known for its large Italian population.[2] It is bounded on the west by Tribeca and Soho, on the south by Chinatown, on the east by the Bowery and Lower East Side, and on the north by Nolita.


Little Italy, Lower East Side, c. 1900

Little Italy on Mulberry Street used to extend as far south as Worth Street, as far north as Houston Street, as far west as Lafayette Street, and as far east as Bowery.[citation needed] It is now only three blocks on Mulberry Street north of Canal St.[3] Little Italy originated at Mulberry Bend south of Canal, in what had formerly been the Five Points area but is now the heart of Chinatown. Jacob Riis described Mulberry Bend as "the foul core of New York's slums."[4] During this time period "Immigrants of the late 19th century usually settled in ethnic neighborhoods".[5] Therefore, the "mass immigration from Italy during the 1880s"[6] led to the large settlement of Italian immigrants in lower Manhattan. The results of such migration had created an "influx of Italian immigrants" which had "led to the commercial gathering of their dwelling and business".[7]

Bill Tonelli from New York magazine said, "Once, Little Italy was like an insular Neapolitan village re-created on these shores, with its own language, customs, and financial and cultural institutions."[4] Little Italy was not the largest Italian neighborhood in New York City, as East Harlem (or Italian Harlem) had a larger Italian population. Tonelli said that Little Italy "was perhaps the city's poorest Italian neighborhood".[4]

In 1910 Little Italy had almost 10,000 Italians; that was the peak of the community's Italian population. At the turn of the 20th century, over 90% of the residents of the Fourteenth Ward were of Italian birth or origins.[4] Tonelli said that it meant "that residents began moving out to more spacious digs almost as soon as they arrived."[4] Such a vastly growing community impacted the "U.S. labor movement in the 20th century" by making up much of the labor population in the garment industry".[6]

After World War II, many residents of the Lower East Side began moving to Brooklyn, Staten Island, eastern Long Island, and New Jersey. Chinese immigrants became an increased presence after the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965 removed immigration restrictions, and the Manhattan Chinatown to Little Italy's south expanded. In 2004, Tonelli said, "You can go back 30 years and find newspaper clips chronicling the expansion of Chinatown and mourning the loss of Little Italy."[4]

Before 2004, several upscale businesses entered the northern portion of the area between Houston and Kenmare Street. Tonelli said, "Real-estate prices zoomed, making it even tougher for the old-timers—residents and businesspeople alike—to hang on."[4] After the September 11 attacks in 2001, areas below Houston Street were cut off for the rest of the fall of 2001. The San Gennaro feast, scheduled for September 13, was postponed. Business from the Financial District dropped severely, due to the closure of Park Row, which connected Chinatown and the Civic Center; as a result, residents in Little Italy and Chinatown suffered. Tonelli said the post-9/11 events "strangely enough, ended up motivating all these newfangled efforts to save what's left of the old neighborhood."[4]

In 2004 Tonelli said "Today, Little Italy is a veneer—50 or so restaurants and cafés catering to tourists, covering a dense neighborhood of tenements shared by recent Chinese immigrants, young Americans who can't afford Soho, and a few remaining real live Italians."[4] This sentiment has also been echoed by Italian culture and heritage website ItalianAware. The site has called the dominance of Italians in the area "relatively short-lived." It attributes this to the quick financial prosperity many Italians achieved, which allowed them to leave the cramped neighborhood for areas in Brooklyn and Queens. The site also goes on to state that the area is currently referred to as Little Italy more out of nostalgia than as a reflection of a true ethnic population.[8]

In 2010, Little Italy and Chinatown were listed in a single historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.[9] Little Italy, by this point, was shrinking rapidly.[3]

Demographic changes[edit]

People in Little Italy celebrating, one hour after the Italian football team won the 2006 FIFA World Cup

The New York Times sent its reporters to characterize the Little Italy/Mulberry neighborhood in May 1896:

They are laborers; toilers in all grades of manual work; they are artisans, they are junkman, and here, too, dwell the rag pickers. ... There is a monster colony of Italians who might be termed the commercial or shop keeping community of the Latins. Here are all sorts of stores, pensions, groceries, fruit emporiums, tailors, shoemakers, wine merchants, importers, musical instrument makers. ... There are notaries, lawyers, doctors, apothecaries, undertakers. ... There are more bankers among the Italians than among any other foreigners except the Germans in the city.[10]

Since the late 1960s, when the United States allowed immigration from China, Chinatown's traditional boundary at Canal Street has inched northward into Little Italy. By the 1990s, while many Italian business remained, the blocks between Canal and Kenmare Streets had taken on a feel of Chinatown, though locals continue to refer to the area (including Nolita) as Little Italy.[11]

As of the 2000 U.S. Census, 1,211 residents claiming Italian ancestry lived in three census tracts that make up Little Italy. Those residents comprise 8.25% of the population in the community, which is similar to the proportion of those of Italian ancestry throughout New York City. Bill Tonelli of New York magazine contrasted Little Italy with the Manhattan Chinatown; in 2000, of the residents of the portions of Chinatown south of Grand Street, 81% were of Chinese origins.[4]

In 2004, Tonelli revisited the issue, saying, "Little Italy may always endure as an open-air theme park of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European immigration to the Lower East Side ... But you'll spend a long time in the neighborhood before you hear anyone speak Italian, and then the speaker will be a tourist from Milan."[12] Tonelli added, "You have to slow your gaze to find the neighbors in this neighborhood, because they're so overwhelmed and outnumbered by the tourists. But once you focus, you can see them, standing (or sitting) in the interstices, taking in the scene, like the group of men, mostly senior citizens, loitering contentedly under an awning on Mulberry Street."[12]

By 2010 the U.S. Community Survey found that none of the people living in Little Italy were born in Italy, and 5% of residents identified as Italian American.[13]

Cultural attractions[edit]

Mulberry Street in Little Italy

Little Italy was home to dozens of restaurants that serve authentic Italian cuisine, but between March 2013 and March 2014, eight eateries closed down.[14]

Since 2004, Sorrento Lactalis funds neighborhood cultural events in Little Italy.[4]

The Feast of San Gennaro originally was once only a one-day religious commemoration. It began in September 1926 with the new arrival of immigrants from Naples. The Italian immigrants congregated along Mulberry Street in Manhattan's Little Italy to celebrate San Gennaro as the Patron Saint of Naples. The Feast of San Gennaro is a large street fair, lasting 11 days, that takes place every September along Mulberry Street between Houston and Canal Streets.[15]

The festival is an annual celebration of Italian culture and the Italian-American community. In 1995 Mort Berkowitz became the professional manager of a community group that had been formed to take over management of the San Gennaro feast. Since then, Berkowitz became involved in other recreational activities in Little Italy, including the summer, Carnevale, Columbus Day, and Christmas events.[4]

Richard Alba, a sociologist and professor at University at Albany, SUNY, said, "The fascinating part here is the way in which ethnic tourism—not only by Italian Americans but by people who want to see an authentic urban village—keeps these neighborhoods going."[12]

Little Italy is also home to Alleva Dairy, the oldest cheese shop in the United States. The store was founded in 1892 and is located on Grand Street. [16]

Organized crime and the Mafia[edit]

Little Italy residents have seen organized crime since the early 20th century. Powerful members of the Italian Mafia have operated in Little Italy.

In popular culture[edit]

Little Italy was the locale of the fictional Corleone family depicted in the novel The Godfather and the three films based on it. It is also the setting for the 1973 Martin Scorsese film Mean Streets, starring Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro, the latter of whom also grew up in the neighborhood,[21] and the 1994 Luc Besson film Léon: The Professional, starring Jean Reno, Gary Oldman, and Natalie Portman.[22] It is also depicted in the finale of The Sopranos, titled "Made in America", where a character walks down a block and finds himself in Chinatown, demonstrating how Little Italy has shrunk.[23]

Other Italian American neighborhoods in New York City[edit]

Other Italian American neighborhoods in New York City include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "NYC Planning | Community Profiles". New York City Department of City Planning. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
  2. ^ "Little Italy | Italy". 5 July 2019. Retrieved Dec 8, 2020.
  3. ^ a b Briquelet, Kate (March 30, 2014). "Little Italy is on the brink of extinction". New York Post.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Tonelli, Bill. "Arrivederci, Little Italy." New York. September 27, 2004. p. 1. Retrieved on April 10, 2013.
  5. ^ Jackson, Keller, Kenneth T, Lisa (2010). The Encyclopedia of New York City. New Haven, US: University Press – via Yale.
  6. ^ a b Pretelli, Matteo (2014). Multicultural America: A Multimedia Encyclopedia. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference. pp. 1362–1363.
  7. ^ Henderson, Matthew Adam (2006). Encyclopedia of Immigration and Migration in the American West. SAGE Reference. pp. 411–413.
  8. ^ "Littl-er Italy in NYC". ItalianAware. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  9. ^ "National Register of Historic Places listings for February 19, 2010". National Park Service. February 19, 2010. Retrieved February 19, 2010.
  10. ^ Staff (May 31, 1896) "Little Italy in New-York" The New York Times p.32
  11. ^ Cohen, Joyce. If You're Thinking of Living In/Nolita; A Slice of Little Italy Moving Upscale, The New York Times, May 17, 1998.
  12. ^ a b c Tonelli, Bill. "Arrivederci, Little Italy." New York. September 27, 2004. p. 2. Retrieved on April 10, 2013.
  13. ^ "New York's Little Italy, Littler by the Year". The New York Times. 2011-02-22. Retrieved 2021-03-24.
  14. ^ Khabiri, Layla (Mar 30, 2014). "Rent Hikes Forcing Little Italy Restaurants to Close". Eater NY. Retrieved Dec 8, 2020.
  15. ^ "Little Italy New York City". Retrieved Dec 8, 2020.
  16. ^ "Historic cheese shop in Little Italy needs 'help' to survive the COVID pandemic". 12 April 2022.
  17. ^ Dickie, John (31 March 2015). Cosa Nostra: A History of the Sicilian Mafia. New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 170. ISBN 9781466893054.
  18. ^ McShane, Larry via Associated Press. "Matty 'The Horse' on His Last Ride", The Washington Post, March 4, 2007. Accessed December 23, 2017.
  19. ^ Vitello, Paul. "Matthew Ianniello, the Mafia Boss Known as ‘Matty the Horse,’ Dies at 92", The New York Times, August 22, 2012. Accessed December 23, 2017. "His stake in one restaurant, Umberto's Clam House, in Little Italy, placed him at the scene of an infamous and legendary gangland murder on April 7, 1972, when the reputed Colombo crime family underboss Joey Gallo was riddled with bullets between courses of a late-night meal by four gunmen, in an intrafamily gang war. Mr. Ianniello, who then owned a hidden interest in Umberto's, was working in the kitchen at the time and was initially suspected of having some involvement in the hit. But he was never charged."
  20. ^ Rabb, Selwyn. "John Gotti Running The Mob", The New York Times, April 2, 1989. Accessed December 23, 2017. "On Christmas Eve, a week after the double slaying, detectives concealed in a van in Little Italy witnessed a striking scene outside the Ravenite Social Club, Dellacroce's old headquarters, that confirmed what investigators had heard from informers: John Gotti was the new boss of the Gambino family."
  21. ^ Wong, Edward. "Little Italy Journal; Reliving 'Mean Streets' In Open-Air Screenings", The New York Times, July 16, 2000. Accessed July 30, 2016. "For a taste of the old neighborhood, he had to walk over to the playground at Spring and Mulberry Streets to watch films like Mean Streets, the 1973 Martin Scorsese opus in which Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro play small-time wiseguys in Little Italy."
  22. ^ Breihan, Tom. "The Professional Is Deeply Problematic, Profoundly Cool, And Very '90s", Deadspin, May 15, 2015. Accessed December 23, 2017. "The movie opens with a camera flying over Central Park, turning into a fisheye zoom-in on the Little Italy restaurant where Reno gets his contracts. When he's on a job, Reno's face emerges from shadows, then disappears again when he's made his point."
  23. ^ Staley, Willy. "Why Is Every Young Person in America Watching The Sopranos?", The New York Times Magazine, September 29, 2021. Accessed December 1, 2022. "Italian American neighborhoods have emptied out — as Jacobs writes, 'radically diminishing the pool of tough teenagers with Cosa Nostra potential'; this is dramatized brilliantly in the final episode of the series, when a mobster from a New York family hurries through Little Italy on an important phone call and, when the call ends, looks around to see he's wandered into an encroaching and vibrant Chinatown."

External links[edit]