Alleva Dairy, a 130-year-old Little Italy cheese store known for its fresh ricotta and mozzarella, will close in March after a long battle with its landlord over back rent. It’s just the latest passing of a historic business in the Manhattan neighborhood, whose demographics have changed significantly in the past few decades.
“We don’t know where we’re going,” said Karen King, who bought the shop with her husband in 2014 from the family who founded Alleva. “But I do know that if we go somewhere, it’ll be bigger, it’ll be better. We’re taking with us the quality that we have had on Mulberry and Grand for this long.”
The closing would end months of financial woes for the cheese shop. Last September, Alleva Dairy filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Its lease expired on Oct. 31, but the company agreed to continue paying $23,756 a month in rent while it remained in the space, according to court papers. The owner of the property, Jerome G. Stabile III Realty, agreed to drop its attempts to collect more than $628,000 in back rent, which accumulated during the pandemic, if the shop paid a lump sum of about $31,000 (which Ms. King says has already been paid) and moved out by March 5.
“The landlord has attempted to work with Alleva and been very patient,” said Scott Markowitz, a partner at Tarter Krinsky & Drogin, which is representing the landlord. “This settlement allows Alleva to remain in business, just not in the location that they’re currently at.”
Pina Alleva, who immigrated from Benevento, Italy, founded the store in 1892 at the corner of Grand and Mulberry Streets. The Alleva family ran it until 2014, when Ms. King and her husband, John Ciarcia, a cousin of the last family owner, Robert Alleva, took over the business. Mr. Ciarcia, who died in 2015, was an actor on “The Sopranos” and appeared in the film “Goodfellas.” The actor Tony Danza, perhaps best known as the housekeeper dad on the television series “Who’s the Boss?” was a co-owner of the shop until 2017.
The neighborhood’s Italian American businesses are dwindling. Next door, Piemonte Ravioli, established in 1920, sells fresh pasta. Across Grand Street, Ferrara Bakery, also established in 1892, offers gelato, espresso and Italian desserts. As nearby NoLIta has spread its influence, trendy boutiques have popped up among the older shops.
“The city has lost so many iconic places through Covid and landlords still need to pay their bills, but there should be some accommodations, especially with such a landmark place,” said Matthew Burke, who works in the neighborhood and stops into Alleva for sandwiches. He said closings like these are “selling the soul of the neighborhood.”
When Alleva Dairy opened, it catered to Italian immigrants who worked hard jobs like digging subway tunnels and had more disposable income than they did in Italy. Italian American cuisine was born, a richer style of cooking than what existed in Italy at the time, fusing cooking techniques from Italy with American ingredients, said Robert Snyder, a Manhattan historian and former professor at Rutgers.
Over time, as Italian food became popular across the country, tourists came to Italian neighborhoods like Little Italy. But over the decades, the neighborhood’s Italian descendants began to leave, Mr. Snyder said. Today, many suburban stores carry the specialty foods that shoppers used to seek out at places like Alleva Dairy.
“Italian food has become a nationwide phenomenon,” Mr. Snyder said, “and you don’t have to live in New York City to find it.”
While many people are grieving the loss of another Little Italy landmark, others, like Bob Rendine, an Italian American living in TriBeCa, said the quality of the products and the store’s supplies had declined over the years.
On a recent Saturday morning, Mr. Rendine went to pick up his order at Di Palo’s, an Italian grocery store at the other end of the block from Alleva Dairy. He forgot to order provolone, so he walked down to Alleva to get it instead of getting into the line at Di Palo, which was almost out the door.
“It was sad because the store was basically empty,” he said of Alleva. “I don’t want to point digs into a business that deserves to be paid homage to, but reality is reality.”
Alain Delaquérière contributed research.