Little Italy 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.Little Italy on Mulberry Street used to extend as far south as Worth Street, as far north as Houston Street, as far west as Lafayette Street, and as far east as Bowery. It is now only three blocks on Mulberry Street. Little Italy originated as Mulberry Bend. Jacob Riis described Mulberry Bend as 'the foul core of New York’s slums.' During this time period 'Immigrants of the late 19th century usually settled in ethnic neighborhoods'. Therefore, the “mass immigration from Italy during the 1880’s” led to the large settlement of Italian immigrants in lower Manhattan. The results of such migration had created an 'influx of Italian immigrants' which had 'led to the commercial gathering of their dwelling and business'.
Bill Tonelli from New York magazine said, 'Once, Little Italy was like an insular Neapolitan village re-created on these shores, with its own language, customs, and financial and cultural institutions.' Little Italy was not the largest Italian neighborhood in New York City, as East Harlem (or Italian Harlem) had a larger Italian population. Tonelli said that Little Italy 'was perhaps the city’s poorest Italian neighborhood'. In 1910 Little Italy had almost 10,000 Italians; that was the peak of the community's Italian population. At the turn of the 20th century over 90% of the residents of the Fourteenth Ward were of Italian birth or origins. Tonnelli said that it meant 'that residents began moving out to more spacious digs almost as soon as they arrived.' Such a vastly growing community impacted the 'U.S. labor movement in the 20th century” by making up much of the labor population in the garment industry'.
After World War II, many residents of the Lower East Side began moving to Brooklyn, Staten Island, eastern Long Island, and New Jersey. Chinese immigrants became an increased presence after the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965 removed immigration restrictions, and the Manhattan Chinatown to Little Italy's south expanded. In 2004, Tonelli said, 'You can go back 30 years and find newspaper clips chronicling the expansion of Chinatown and mourning the loss of Little Italy.'
Prior to 2004, several upscale businesses entered the northern portion of the area between Houston and Kenmare Street. Tonelli said 'Real-estate prices zoomed, making it even tougher for the old-timers—residents and businesspeople alike—to hang on.' After the September 11 attacks in 2001, areas below Houston Street were cut off for the rest of the fall of 2001. The San Gennaro feast, scheduled for September 13, was postponed. Business from the Financial District dropped severely, due to the closure of Park Row, which connected Chinatown and the Civic Center; as a result, residents in Little Italy and Chinatown suffered. Tonelli said the post-9/11 events 'strangely enough, ended up motivating all these newfangled efforts to save what’s left of the old neighborhood.'
In 2004 Tonelli said 'Today, Little Italy is a veneer—50 or so restaurants and cafés catering to tourists, covering a dense neighborhood of tenements shared by recent Chinese immigrants, young Americans who can’t afford Soho, and a few remaining real live Italians.' This sentiment has also been echoed by Italian culture and heritage website ItalianAware. The site has called the dominance of Italians in the area, 'relatively short lived.' It attributes this to the quick financial prosperity many Italians achieved, which afforded them the opportunity to leave the cramped neighborhood for areas in Brooklyn and Queens. The site also goes on to state that the area is currently referred to as Little Italy more out of nostalgia than as a reflection of a true ethnic population.
In 2010, Little Italy and Chinatown were listed in a single historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. Little Italy, by this point, was shrinking rapidly.