A middle aged Chinese woman, sporting a baseball cap and wearing baggy clothes, seeks out tourists who are looking to buy counterfeit handbags. “Pst Psssst handbag, handbag,” she whispers. She approaches them with a colorful sheet containing various pictures of Louis Vuitton, Coach, and Chanel bags; indiscernible from those you’d find at any upscale boutiques in SoHo just-a 10-minute walk away. Soon the customer who buys one of those bags could find herself behind bars.

Illegal Handbag Selling on an Offbeat Canal St. Corner

On April 28, Councilwoman Margaret Chin proposed new legislation at City Hall. The bill would not target the vendors who sell counterfeit bags, but the customers who are buying them. Buying counterfeit in New York City would be considered a class A misdemeanor: those who would be convicted would have to pay up to $1,000 in penalties and face a maximum of a year in jail.

But not everyone thinks Chin’s proposal is a good idea. “It does seem unfair to punish regular customers, some of whom may have no idea what they are doing is illegal,” said Hayley Phelan, a former online assistant online editor at Teen Vogue. “If the police aren’t able to control the known counterfeit areas and get the vendors off the street then it does seem silly that customers should be punished for buying something that is being sold in the open,” she said.

A Legal Canal St. Business

Lora Tenenbaum, who lives on Canal Street, wasn’t optimistic about the bill’s practicality. She was worried about the application of the law itself. She said that she didn’t think policemen would bust counterfeit customers on a regular basis.

“Shouldn’t they be going after the merchants? Why are they focusing on the buyer?” wrote Spidey Sense in the comments section of a Gothamist article entitled “Buying a Counterfeit Designer Bag Could Soon Land You in Jail or A $1000 Fine.”

“That’s outrageous! Why does it even matter?” said Joan Geddes a tourist and counterfeit handbag buyer from England.

But many Chinatown and Little Italy residents have had enough of the influx of customers and vendors flooding their streets, and would be happy to see the customers purchasing illegal goods get arrested. Qw3

“They were all standing in front of and even inside of the Most Precious Blood church the other day,” said William Bray, a 21 Spring St. resident. “They wouldn’t even help an old lady down the stairs of the church, they didn’t move out of the way,” he said. He said that he had called the police and the vendors scattered once they arrived. Bray supports the bill, in hopes that it would deter traffic.

The Steps of Most Precious Blood Church

Most Precious Blood Church

Kelly Magee, Chin’s spokeswoman, said in a phone interview that many residents had complained that illegal vendors were using their stoops as a store and harassing them as they left their building. She said that despite heightened police presence and the effort of the mayor’s task force to cut down on suppliers, illegal vendors are still in the streets. Chin’s proposed legislation to charge customers is designed to prevent people from buying counterfeit products, she continued.

Magee said that one of the main reasons the bill has been proposed was due to the large number of counterfeit products being sold, adding that the city is losing an estimated $1 billion in tax revenue. She said that over $23 billion are spent on counterfeit goods in New York alone. If this money were spent on legitimate businesses, then the city would have more tax funds to pay their agencies.

“I think the reason that authorities SHOULD bust the customers for the handbags is that they are NOT immigrants fresh out of a dictatorship and are NOT doing what they do out of any kind of necessity like survival, but assimilated Americans who know better than to do what they’re doing and are doing it just to get away with doing wrong, and also to give New York City the finger — they treat us like a toilet,” said Elliot Hurwitt, an ethnomusicologist and Mulberry St. resident, in an email interview.

Councilman Daniel R. Garodnick’s spokesperson stated that they were reviewing the bill in order to determine whether or not they supported it. “We have not had any Council members oppose the bill, but we also aren’t at that part in the process. All council members will be invited to attend the hearing on the bill and express their concerns,” said Magee.

“The bill has been referred to the Public Safety Committee, which will hold a hearing on the bill – no date for that as of yet,” said Magee.

Canal St. Intersection


La Mela-an old school Italian restaurant

Festooned with red, white, and green flags Little Italy beckons crowds of tourists to explore its gift shops. But off the beaten paths fashinonistas, hipsters, businessmen and neighborhood locals strut off the grid to find comfort in Italian American cooking a little further West on Mulberry St.

Rubirosa and Torrisi Italian Food Specialties are two new Italian American restaurants that are transforming the old neighborhood delicacies into something refreshing, reviving the neighborhood’s Italian American food traditions and transforming it into a trend.

Torrisi Italian Food Specialties and Rubirosa opened in 2010 and are located on Mulberry St. between Prince and Spring in the trendy neighborhood known as “Nolita,” short for North of Little Italy (The traditional Little Italy is considered to start at Mulberry and Canal and extend to Kenmare street to the North.)

Marko Frigeri is a big fan of Torrisi. He was waiting on line to put his name down for its exclusive $50 a head dinner. “The food is amazing—I like everything I’ve had,” he said.

Torrisi's Old School Italian American Store Front

By 5:45 a large mob clogs up the front of the restaurant. They are the patrons who have hopes of getting their names taken in time for the first seating.   Although the food is not nearly as affordable as some of the restaurants further south on Mulberry Street, it is in higher demand.

“It’s the way they take care of the food. For instance, the basil on the chicken parm, just small things like that,” said Hawaii Mike, a marketing consultant for LTD plus who lives in Brooklyn, as he patiently awaited his herb roasted turkey sandwich.

At Rubirosa, they make their own fresh pasta. At Torrisi, they buy only domestic products, meaning no imported products. Little Italy’s old-line eateries would use dry pasta and ingredients imported from Italy as a matter of course.

The appeal of Little Italy, to many of its customers, is the tradition and value of the food.  “La Mela is my favorite; it reminds of me old school Italian American,” said Daniel Granato, a New Jersey who resident was waiting for a table.

A mob of Italian American women from Boston gathered in front of Da Gennaro (a restaurant south of Grand street on Mulberry), including Linda Abon who pointed to the menu and proclaimed, “This is the real deal! I love it.”

Frank Alquino, also known as Butch the Hat, is an actor who has lived on Mulberry Street for over 60 years. He is also a patron and part -time employee at La Mela Ristorante on Mulberry Street. La Mela opened 25 years ago, and provides a variety of different traditional Italian-American meals, such as penne vodka and chicken parmigiana.

La Mela's classic menu

“The restaurants down here are different because of the way everything is prepared, family recipes are being passed down. You can get family style larger portions here for cheaper than over there,” he said referring to the clash between old and new.

Torrisi’s portions are smaller than the restaurants like La Mela and Umberto’s Clam House—but according to its four star rating on Yelp.com and multiple write-ups in the New York Times—its food is superior. Although these restaurants are on Mulberry St, they veer away from the Little Italy well known to tourists. Their food is progressive yet traditional and attracts all different types of patrons.

“It’s a mix of old neighborhood, and new neighborhood. The old Italian ladies who sit out in front of Ceci-Cela (a longstanding French patisserie on Spring St.) love it here. They always order in their Italian American slang,” said Bari Muscacchio, the general manager at Rubirosa.

The American Italian food trend in Nolita is going to expand—it is rumored that Torrisi has bought the space next door and will convert it into a sandwich shop and deli.

Pedestrians Standing in the Bike Lane

Delivery boys, bike messengers, Tour de France hopefuls and commuters whizz through traffic and weave through pedestrians on bike lanes in Little Italy. However, these cyclists may soon have to apply the brakes due to the recent outcry against reckless riding in this historic neighborhood.

At the 5th Precinct Community Council meeting on Feb. 23rd, Little Italy residents—both young and old—complained about the bike lanes on Grand Street and Prince Street, which the city constructed in 2008. According to the Department of Transportation, they were created in order to promote safer travel and higher mobility for cyclists in an effort to reduce automotive traffic.

“My 86 year old neighbor has been hit four times due to bikes going in the wrong direction,” said Lillian Tozzi, a longtime Mulberry Street resident, at the meeting. Her neighbor’s Grand Street horror story evoked a sympathetic response from local area residents at the meeting. Tozzi went on to propose that city cyclists should be registered and carry liability insurance like those required of automobiles, as protection against reckless riding.

Elliott Hurwitt, a community council meeting attendee who has lived on Mulberry Street for over 30 years, said, “Biking is a beautiful thing.” The problem he said is that so many cyclists ride in the wrong direction, breaking the rules of the road.

Paul Alexander, a 20 year New York City cycling veteran, said he would rather not use the bike lanes. “Part of the reason is I like to ride fast, which is how most of the lights are timed when riding on avenues,” said Alexander in an email interview. “For example, I’ll make more of the lights if I ride in the street than if I ride in the bike lane and have to constantly be on the lookout for people blindly stepping in my way or some crazy restaurant delivery guy going the wrong way.”

The Bike Lane

In order to promote a safer environment for both pedestrians and cyclists, cyclists all over the city are getting summonsed for breaking common bike law. According to a New York Post article, the New York City Police Department issued nearly 1,000 tickets within the first two weeks of 2011. NYC bike law states that cyclists have to abide by the same rules as automobiles—meaning that they can’t run red lights, or go against traffic.

At the time of the Feb. 23rd Precinct Community Council meeting, Captain Timothy M. Kelly, an exe

cutive officer, stated that the 5th Precinct alone had issued 67 bicycle related summonses since the beginning of 2011.

“No, I haven’t been summonsed, but I have been riding a bit differently due to the c

rackdown on bikes,” said Alex Leader, as he trudged through a rainstorm, bike in hand and messenger bag on back. He rides five days a week and always wears a helmet—he also works at Bicycle Habitat.

“Tickets won’t address the larger problem, which is a lack of understanding of good versus bad bike etiquette,” wrote Alexander.

The smell of freshly sliced prosciutto and smoked mozzarella fill the air. A variety of meats are on display in antique marble cases. Glistening cheeses hang from the ceiling, while photos and ancient memorabilia are scattered across the tiled walls. The name of this neighborhood staple: Alleva.

Alleva proves to its customers that preserving the traditions of tasty Italian delicacies is far more important than selling out—but that the tradition that many patrons love, might one day disappear. According to Lou Di Palo, owner of the rival Italian delicacy store, Di Palo Selects (which is located just down the street), stores like Alleva “preserve the Italian immigrant spirit.”

Pina Alleva, started the shop in 1892. It is located on the corner of Mulberry and Grand, and serves a variety of Italian food specialties: an assortment of antipasto, quality meats, a variety of cheeses, including their specialties: store-made mozzarella and ricotta, as well as imported olives and pasta.

Meats hanging from the ceiling

Alleva's famous fresh homemade mozzarella

Robert Alleva, the latest in a long line of Allevas overseeing this Little Italy jewel, has kept his family’s tradition alive for over 30 years. When he was a kid, he would come to the shop and help out on weekends. John, 28, one of his sons, who works in advertising, still manages to come in and work on weekend. Unless he wants to take over the shop, Alleva may not remain open.

“The neighborhood has changed a bit, but not as much as everyone says,” said Alleva. “Little Italy has always mainly been on Mulberry Street,” he said.

“Some have moved away, but the same customers keep coming back,” he said when asked about whether business had been greatly affected by the emergence of new buildings and storefronts in the Little Italy area. He was quick to note that the influx of tourism has been a boom for business, especially since the neighborhood has lost many of its long time Italian-American residents; Alleva himself currently lives in Queens.

A century ago, Alleva and its more famous neighbor Di Palo were fierce competitors. But now that the Di Palo and Alleva families are among the few remaining original families on the block, they have become friends. “After being in business a hundred years together you learn to get along,” said Di Palo. “We help each our out,” Alleva agreed.

Di Palo Select-another Italian specialty shop on the block

Alleva said that another shop, which remains as part of the heart of Little Italy, is Ferrara, which is directly across the street. Massimo Barazzo, a waiter at Ferrara who has worked there for over a year and a half said that he often goes to Alleva to get sandwiches. Hailing from Milan, he said that the sandwiches were different than those found in his part of Italy, but that the food culture was still there.

“Us, Ferrara, and Di Palo, we’re the core of Little Italy,” said Alleva.