Little Italy (Italian: Piccola Italia) is a neighborhood in Lower Manhattan, New York City, once known for its large population of Italian Americans. Today the neighborhood consists of only a few Italian stores and restaurants. It is bounded on the west by Tribeca and Soho, on the south by Chinatown, on the east by the Bowery and Lower East Side, and on the north by Nolita.
The New York Times sent its reporters to characterize the Little Italy/Mulberry neighborhood in May 1896:
They are laborers; toilers in all grades of manual work; they are artisans, they are junkman, and here, too, dwell the rag pickers. … There is a monster colony of Italians who might be termed the commercial or shop keeping community of the Latins. Here are all sorts of stores, pensions, groceries, fruit emporiums, tailors, shoemakers, wine merchants, importers, musical instrument makers. … There are notaries, lawyers, doctors, apothecaries, undertakers. … There are more bankers among the Italians than among any other foreigners except the Germans in the city.
As of the 2000 U.S. Census, 1,211 residents claiming Italian ancestry lived in three census tracts that make up Little Italy. Those residents comprise 8.25% of the population in the community, which is similar to the proportion of those of Italian ancestry throughout New York City. Bill Tonelli of New York magazine contrasted Little Italy with the Manhattan Chinatown; in 2000, of the residents of the portions of Chinatown south of Grand Street, 81% were of Chinese origins.
In 2004, Tonelli revisited the issue, saying, “Little Italy may always endure as an open-air theme park of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European immigration to the Lower East Side … But you’ll spend a long time in the neighborhood before you hear anyone speak Italian, and then the speaker will be a tourist from Milan.” Tonelli added, “You have to slow your gaze to find the neighbors in this neighborhood, because they’re so overwhelmed and outnumbered by the tourists. But once you focus, you can see them, standing (or sitting) in the interstices, taking in the scene, like the group of men, mostly senior citizens, loitering contentedly under an awning on Mulberry Street.”