Little Italy has literally become littler. Once known for it’s large population of Italians (10,000 back in 1910), it has shrunk down to a few blocks that intersect Mulberry Street, Little Italy’s main street. The area was more of a stopping ground for immigrating Italians who quickly moved out of Little Italy when more spacious digs became available. Little Italy never had the largest population of Italians in Manhattan, it was East Harlem that had that distinction. Soon after 9/11, areas south of Houston Street, including Little Italy, Chinatown, SoHo and Tribeca were cut off from the public for several months severely impacting businesses already suffering from a slow economy. Once things began to open up, upscale businesses entered the northern portion of Little Italy making the ‘Italian zone’ even smaller.
Chinese immigrants became an increased presence after the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965 removed immigration restrictions. Over the past 30-40 years Chinatown has literally surrounded Little Italy on three sides as it expanded into the SoHo and The Bowery areas.
Today, Little Italy is basically a veneer with 50 or so restaurants and shops catering to tourists. Many New Yorkers feel the name ‘Little Italy’ remains purely out of nostalgia. In 2010, Little Italy and Chinatown were listed as a single historic district in Manhattan on the National Register of Historic Places. Once a year (in September) Mulberry Street comes alive during the Feast of San Gennaro. All types of vendors line Mulberry Street and over one million visitors crowed the tiny area for almost two weeks to enjoy all things Italian…especially food!
Today the neighborhood of Little Italy is on the verge of extinction. The name ‘Little Italy’ however will most likely live on forever.