This seal is in the street right at the beginning of the Little Italy section on Arthur Avenue. (Crimmins, 2016)

Arthur Avenue

Arthur Avenue, spanning from about 184th to 188th Street in the Belmont neighborhood of Bronx, New York, provides an immersive experience in Italian culture to all who visit. When visiting Arthur Avenue, you will be surrounded by authentic food, clothing, and shops that cannot be found many other places in the United States. Italy is the only other place you will find many of the traditions and products found in the market and shops which is what makes this area so special to Italians and the melting pot of culture that is New York City.

Arthur Avenue and 187th Street was bought by Pietro Cinelli in the early 20th century. Cinelli was an Italian immigrant who began selling pieces of the land to other Italians to get them out of the poor-quality tenements many lived in at the time. Cinelli had a church built by the archdiocese and families quickly moved to the area bringing new businesses along with them. [1] Family businesses and pushcart vendors popped up along the avenue bringing pieces of Italy to the immigrants’ new home in New York City.

In the late 19th century and into the 20th century, New York was experiencing exponential population growth due to immigration from southern and eastern Europe. As a result of this, pockets of specific ethnic groups, such as was seen on Arthur Avenue, emerged throughout the city. However, nativists were not happy with the increasing number of immigrants coming to their city and expressed those feelings. Nativist sentiment caused all immigrants to be discriminated against and seen as less than those who were born in the United States. The residents and business owners on Arthur Avenue were by no means exempt from that. These people faced harassment and a general sense of being unwelcome many places in the city. However, their community in the Bronx was there to support each other and serve as a haven away from that.

This is one section of the Arthur Avenue Retail Market that contains fresh produce and plants. The rest of the market is home to other products, but it is all arranged in a similar fashion with deli style stands along the perimeter for cheese, meat, pastries, ready made meals, and seafood. (NYC EDC, n.d.)

Before the 1940s, the streets of Arthur Avenue were filled with push carts full of authentic products sold my immigrants. In March of 1940, this all changed. Plans were set by New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia for an indoor market to be built as a place for pushcart peddlers to sell their specialty items. [2] With this project, immigrants who took jobs as pushcart peddlers moved up in society from being low class peasants to dignified merchants. This location was one of several markets being built by the city but the only one in the Bronx. [3] Located on Arthur Avenue and 186th street, the market quickly became the epicenter of the little Italy section of the Bronx. Still standing today with a wide variety of storefronts and restaurants, the public market remains a staple of Italian American culture.

In the 1980s the city government was ready to give up all the responsibility it had over the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. The New York City government was looking to shut down the market completely because of its higher than desired cost to operate and maintain. So, the vendors themselves stepped up to save the market that allowed their lives to prosper more than they could have imagined. A group of merchants was designated to manage the building despite the facility itself still being owned by the city. [4] The new managers had control of the building, so they made many renovations and improvements to improve the working experience for merchants as well as the shopping experience for customers.

Then in 2006, federal funding for the Arthur Avenue Retail Market and many small businesses in the area were at risk. A proposed bill would remove funding for many projects and places supported by the Bronx Council of the Arts including the market which at this point had been around for over 80 years and become a very significant place in tourism and the lives of New York City residents. New York Congress Representative Jose Serrano advocated for Arthur Avenue and ultimately ensured that the historical significance and economic prosperity of these businesses was carried on and appreciated. [5]

As time went on, the merchants on Arthur Avenue have faced many challenges in keeping their businesses afloat and culture alive. The neighborhood is now shared with immigrants from many other cultures including from Puerto Rio, Latin America, and Albania causing the population of Italians in this area to be reduced significantly. [6] Many business owners have moved out of the area and many other cultures come together along the borders of the area. However, Arthur Avenue remains constant as the Little Italy of the Bronx being home to authentic businesses going back generations. With a constantly changing economic landscape and COVID-19 related shutdowns, came even more challenges that were never before seen. Despite this, Italian American business owners and families never let Arthur Avenue and their culture get sacrificed. Because of the constant source of support that Arthur Avenue has been in the lives of Italian Americans and the passion for Italian culture, Arthur Avenue has survived for decades through ups and downs and unprecedented times. That spirit of celebrating perseverance and hard work comes alive when you taste the food, talk to the people, and walk the streets.

In this picture are Italian pastries and coffees at a café found on Arthur Avenue. These homemade, authentic pastries are one example of many of the specialty items found at any shop or restaurant in the area.

Walking through the Arthur Avenue Market you are met with hundreds of different products creating a unique and exciting sensory experience. Everything from meat to produce to pasta to cheese to seafood to homemade pastries can be found inside. Each of the family businesses has a specialty, and together the market has nearly anything you could possibly need to create true Italian dishes. [7] Not only is it the goods that draw people into the market, but also the people behind the products. Each of the merchants have incredible stories that they are more than happy to share with customers because it is all rooted in the culture they cherish and work so hard to preserve. Within the walls of the market, and pouring out into the street to surrounding businesses, is a community of Italians who have the same goal and work to maintain an authentic environment that embodies the values of Italy.

Mixed in with the specialty products being sold in the market and independent shops are authentic, family-owned restaurants. Most of the restaurants serve Italian cuisine, but they all highlight a different region of Italy or specific type of food such as seafood, pasta, meat, or desserts. [8] Each of these places are owned by Italian American families and play a similar role in their lives as each of the stores play in that of the merchants in the market. You can clearly see their passion for what they do and their culture when you go to their restaurants and instantly feel like you are a part of their family.

On top of the market and restaurants there year-round, Arthur Avenue is the home of annual festivals celebrating Italian culture in unique and vibrant ways. [9] Even more unique products can be found when festivals and holidays are going on some of which being palm crosses, seasonal vegetables, painted dry gourds, and pastries special to the occasion. Performers, musicians, and artists fill the streets and stores along the avenue during these times adding to the jubilant atmosphere that is so prevalent in any Italian celebration. By taking part in city wide festivals in a way only Arthur Avenue can and hosting celebrations of their own, Arthur Avenue immerses you in cultural celebration. The festivals are all to celebrate Italian holidays or Roman Catholic Saints.

A merchant at a pasta, noodles, and ravioli shop is rolling out dough for the shape of pasta that was just ordered by the customer. The machines have been updated, but the techniques and recipes used are the same that was used by the family since before the shop opened. (Adornetto, 2019)

Everything that you can see, eat, and experience is rooted in history and tradition brought to the United States firsthand by Italian immigrants. Because of this history and culture, visiting Arthur Avenue has become a generational tradition among Italian families in the New York area. Grandparents and parents take their children to show them how they grew up and connect them with their own culture through personal experiences. Arthur Avenue is the closest that Americans can get to Italy without leaving the country which is what makes this place extra special in Italian America culture.

Many of the storefronts have been around for decades which creates an old-fashioned environment that is traditional yet still engaging and exciting. Arthur Avenue is at its core is intended to preserve authentic Italian culture which can be seen through the old school practices and businesses that are found at every stop along the street. Visitors are transported to a place that genuinely feels like a traditional Italian village when they visit this area of the Bronx because of the classic nature of everything on Arthur Avenue. While it may be true that Arthur Avenue has not evolved technologically along with U.S. society, that creates a unique escape to old Italian traditions and experiences that cannot be found anywhere else in America.

On one’s visit to Arthur Avenue, lots of food, shopping, conversations with strangers, and fun are sure to be found. Every restaurant and shop from Enzo’s to Casa de Mozzarella to Teitel Brother’s Deli to Borgatti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodles will provide a unique experience only a few minutes’ walk from each other. The high number of opportunities for unforgettable Italian experiences all along the avenue cause visitors to never know what they will see or learn next which creates a day full of fun and memories people have experienced for decades. This sense of excitement and element of surprise is one of the many things that makes Arthur Avenue such a frequently visited, highly cherished, and historically significant spot.

[1] Arthur Avenue Food Tours Home. Arthur Avenue Food Tours. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2022, from https://arthuravenuefoodtours.com/.

[2] CITY FILES PLANS FOR BRONX MARKET: WILL SPEND $126,000 ON BUILDING ON ARTHUR AVE, TO HOSE PUSHCART PEDDLERS. (1940, Mar 01). New York Times (1923-) https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/city-files-plans-bronx-market/docview/105442345/se-2?accountid=13793.

[3] Ibid.

[4] F. F. (1988, Jun 08). On the prowl in the Bronx for authentic tastes of Italy: Prowling a Bronx neighborhood for authentic tastes of Italy. New York Times (1923-) https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/on-prowl-bronx-authentic-tastes-italy/docview/110509713/se-2?accountid=13793.

[5] REP. SERRANO SAVES FUNDING FOR ARTHUR AVENUE RETAIL MARKET, BRONX COUNCIL ON ARTS. (2006, Jun 29). US Fed News Service, Including US State News https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/rep-serrano-saves-funding-arthur-avenue-retail/docview/469840248/se-2?accountid=13793.

[6] Haller, V. (2016, May 25). Belmont, the Bronx: Home to Immigrants and Students. The New York Times. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/realestate/belmont-the-bronx-home-to-immigrants-and-students.html

[7] “Arthur Avenue: Little Italy in the Bronx, New York,” Arthur Avenue | Little Italy in the Bronx, New York, September 11, 2021, https://www.arthuravenuebronx.com/.

[8] Lo, D. (2018, August 29). Where to Eat on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Food & Wine. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from https://www.foodandwine.com/travel/united-states/arthur-avenue-food-restaurants.

[9] “Arthur Avenue: Little Italy in the Bronx, New York,” Arthur Avenue | Little Italy in the Bronx, New York, September 11, 2021, https://www.arthuravenuebronx.com/.

Works Cited

Primary Sources

Arthur Avenue: Little Italy in the Bronx, New York. Arthur Avenue | Little Italy in the Bronx, New York. (2021, September 11). Retrieved February 16, 2022, from https://www.arthuravenuebronx.com/.

CITY FILES PLANS FOR BRONX MARKET: WILL SPEND $126,000 ON BUILDING ON ARTHUR AVE, TO HOSE PUSHCART PEDDLERS. (1940, Mar 01). New York Times (1923-) https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/city-files-plans-bronx-market/docview/105442345/se-2?accountid=13793.

REP. SERRANO SAVES FUNDING FOR ARTHUR AVENUE RETAIL MARKET, BRONX COUNCIL ON ARTS. (2006, Jun 29). US Fed News Service, Including US State News https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/rep-serrano-saves-funding-arthur-avenue-retail/docview/469840248/se-2?accountid=13793.

Secondary Sources

Arthur Avenue Food Tours Home. Arthur Avenue Food Tours. (n.d.). Retrieved March 26, 2022, from https://arthuravenuefoodtours.com/.

F. (1988, Jun 08). On the prowl in the Bronx for authentic tastes of Italy: Prowling a Bronx neighborhood for authentic tastes of Italy. New York Times (1923-) https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/on-prowl-bronx-authentic-tastes-italy/docview/110509713/se-2?accountid=13793.

Haller, V. (2016, May 25). Belmont, the Bronx: Home to Immigrants and Students. The New York Times. Retrieved April 10, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/29/realestate/belmont-the-bronx-home-to-immigrants-and-students.html.

Lo, D. (2018, August 29). Where to Eat on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. Food & Wine. Retrieved March 20, 2022, from https://www.foodandwine.com/travel/united-states/arthur-avenue-food-restaurants.

Photographs

Adornetto, G. Italian Pastries. (October 2019). Photograph, Bronx, New York.

Adornetto, G. Man Rolling Pasta Dough. (October 2019). Photograph, Bronx, New York

Arthur Avenue Retail Market. (n.d.). Photograph, Bronx, New York. https://edc.nyc/project/arthur-avenue-market

Crimmins, E. Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. (October 2016). Photograph, Bronx, New York. https://www.flickr.com/photos/edcnyc/30238085115

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