An Introduction to Little Italy of the Bronx
Belmont, located in the Bronx is a very close-knit place. It is an area where most buildings are sold by word of mouth, and the local parking is scarce. Although it is mostly a place where families know one other, it still isn’t the safest of neighborhoods.
“Once ubiquitous graffiti have been removed, and murder and robbery rates are down from what they were 10 years ago, but Ms. Wilson said the neighborhood was more dangerous now than when she grew up there. ”You can’t let the kids walk to school alone,” she said. ”When I was a kid, we always walked to school alone.” (Donavan, 4)
However, there is a bright, safe, cheery part of Belmont – Arthur Avenue.
When we think of Italian food in New York City, we instantly think of Little Italy in Manhattan, with Mulberry Street, the San Gennaro festival and the constant lively atmosphere. Arthur Avenue, located in the Belmont section of the Bronx is not as well known…some New Yorkers do not even know it exists. Others are in love with it and rave about it, placing its worth far above Little Italy in NYC. It is the best place to stock up on well-loved Italian food – pasta, cheese, wine, espresso, meat, pastries, sausage, etc. This four-block stretch of land is considered the “Real Little Italy.”
Nearly all the stores have been run by the same family since they opened. Because of the generations of Italian families, the area has a small-town feeling, which is unusual given its location. Many grandchildren and great-grand children continue to remain on Arthur Avenue, owning and managing businesses that their immigrant ancestors began. Tradition is key here, and even those who have moved away from the avenue continue to return in order to cherish the delicious tastes, memories, and, of course, have new experiences. Not only do Italians come, it is popular among non-Italians. Arthur Avenue has driven many celebrities, who are often “seeking relief from the Manhattan publicity spotlight, find the friendly, small-town atmosphere of Arthur Avenue to be the perfect getaway for a relaxing dinner or weekend stroll.” [i]
Visitors have included Frank Sinatra, Clint Eastwood, Cher, Farah Fawcett, Joe Pesci and Liza Minelli.
One of the highlights of Arthur Avenue is the Retail Market. It was opened in the 1940s, and, under one roof, contains a wide variety of shopping. This includes restaurants, pork stores, bread stores, pasta-makers, pastry shops, fish markets, coffee shops, wine shops and gift and house ware shops. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia spearheaded it and other indoor markets with the hope of keeping pushcarts off the streets, creating a sanctuary space for food sellers.
Due to its location, visits to Little Italy of the Bronx are often combined with visits to Yankee Stadium, the Botanical Gardens or the Bronx Zoo. However, it is difficult to just “swing by” Arthur Avenue…visiting definitely requires a couple hours, and even then the entire avenue would not be covered!
Visit the actual avenue or surf the web and it is easy to see the pride and tradition that radiates from the individuals who own and manage these restaurants/shops/stores. There is a history behind nearly every one: from Mike (Mike’s Deli) whose grandfather immigrated from Naples and opened his first shop in 1922 to Artuso Pastry which was opened in 1946 by Vincent, an immigrant from Calabria. The stories of hard work are inspiring, as many of these immigrants started at the bottom and worked their way up, creating successful businesses that could be passed down through the generations.
Arthur Avenue is the place to go (with an empty stomach) if looking for authentic Italian food and a cheerful, bustling atmosphere. There’s a reason people regularly visit this “Little Italy”. The wide range of food will surely satisfy all. The history of the individuals working behind the counters is always fascinating.