Between its ever-shrinking footprint and the boutique owners whose delicate sensibilities are offended by the San Gennaro Festival, Little Italy has taken its fair share of knocks in recent years. And to add insult to injury, the neighborhood’s merchants are saying that Eataly is taking away its customers.
Some of Little Italy’s shop and restaurant owners told the Post that “the real people who live in Manhattan don’t come here anymore,” preferring instead to patronize the behemoth of West 23rd Street. There are, however, still “millions of tourists” who form a nearly endless throng on Mulberry Street.
And that may be part of the problem — what remains of Little Italy has long been a tourist trap where you’re as likely to find Brooklyn Bridge snow globes as top-shelf mozzarella. Long before Eataly squatted down in the Flatiron District, the locals were learning to avoid Mulberry Street like week-old veal Milanese.
And that’s sad, because places like Di Palo’s, Alleva, and Piemonte have retained both their character and superlative products in spite of their diminished surroundings, and offer their shoppers a far more authentic experience than you’ll ever find amid the air-freighted tropical fruit and vegetable butchers of Eataly. Little Italy is indeed “a little dirty, grimy … hot and smelly,” as one Eataly patron told the Post, but if we wanted to frequent a mall, we would move to Minnesota.
And it’s not as if Eataly offers its shoppers a convincing alternative to the crowds of Little Italy, or much of a respite from the tourists. Instead, like all successful malls, it offers them air conditioning and more options than anyone, anywhere, needs or will ever take advantage of. But one thing it doesn’t offer is the city’s best fresh mozzarella. That honor, as we happily discovered last year, goes to Di Palo’s.