Grab A Microscope & Check Out What's Left Of Little Italy

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Things have been getting worse and worse for Little Italy over the last decade (see: the battle over the San Gennaro festival), and they only seem to be getting ...worser. The NY Post has a story today all about how Little Italy is dying due to rent increases and the changing demographics of the neighborhood, and it sounds like your children won't have a Little Italy to visit in the future: "You can’t rebuild Little Italy," said Robert Ianniello Jr., owner of Umbertos Clam House. "If we go away, it will never be here again. You can’t build an Olive Garden and say it’s Little Italy."

Ianniello points to exorbitant rent increases as one of the major problems, saying he's received rent bills from a new landlord nearly twice what he had been previously paying: “It’s a landlord problem,” said Ianniello, who also heads the Little Italy Merchants Association. “They think this is Fifth Avenue.” At least eight eateries have shuttered over the last year, including Giovanna’s, Positano Ristorante, and S.P.Q.R., all of which were force to closed due to rent increases.

In addition, there's the matter of the changing shape of the neighborhood: Little Italy used to stretch from Lafayette Street to the Bowery and from Kenmare to Canal Streets. Now it's been reduced to about three blocks. In 1950 almost half of the 10,000 NYers living in the area identified themselves as Italian-American (2,149 of them were even born in Italy), but as of the most recent census, only 5% of the 8,600 area residents called themselves Italian-American, and not one of them had been born in Italy. 4,400 of them were immigrants however, with 89% of them hailing from Asia.

"Right now, there is just enough of a population to keep up traditions,” Italian historian Emelise Aleandri told the Post. "But it’s going to be more difficult to keep the area Italian if the merchants and businesses leave" Also not helping anything: losing patrons to ginormous Flatiron Italian food emporium Eataly, and the occasional bee attacks which have plagued the area in recent years.

Of course, people have been writing obituaries for Little Italy for a while now: "Little Italy has become Littler Italy," Joseph V. Scelsa, president of the Italian American museum, noted in 2007.

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