Tuesday, March 15, 2011

E. Rossi & Co.

Thanks to Roy Campolongo and Michele Campo for sending in the link to Closing Time*, Veronica Diaferia's 2006 documentary about the closure of E. Rossi & Co. After almost 100 years, they were forced out when new owners bought the property, asking for $25,000 rent per month.

(*The full video is hosted at Folkstreams, which seems to be having trouble at the moment.)

film still

In Diaferia's documentary, we watch the Rossi family pack up the shop, a daunting task with a century of inventory to go through, including shelves loaded with countless 78 records, pianola rolls, and Neapolitan sheet music.

Opened in 1910 by Ernesto Rossi as Rossi's Libreria, the shop began as a music store and publishing company.

film still

"Rossi's, in its last 20 years, 30 years," said Joseph Sciorra, assistant director of the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute at Queens College, "had really become this kind of repository and archive for Italian-American popular culture. Its collection is unprecedented.''

"From this store in America," says Amore: The Story of Italian American Song, "Italian pop music, parlor songs, and opera would all come together" and be disseminated across the city and the country.

The closure of Rossi's happened at the same time as the closure of Paolucci's restaurant, opened in 1947, also driven out due to skyrocketing rent--from $3,500 to $20,000 per month. And there were others lost. As the Villager reported at the time, all this happened when real estate company, John Anthony Group, Inc., bought a package of buildings on Mulberry and Grand Streets, including 9 existing businesses.

In the documentary, Mr. Paolucci says a tearful goodbye to Little Italy. Today, at his restaurant's former address, there is now The Mulberry Project, which the Times recently called "a speakeasy-style lounge with mixologists, locavore plates and an in-crowd that revels in its erudite tastes."

Paolucci went on to open a new restaurant in Staten Island, but that has also closed. E. Rossi & Co. survived by relocating around the corner from their life-long location in Little Italy. The elder Mr. Rossi himself, however, did not last long after the move.

The son of Ernesto and father of Ernest, Luigi Rossi passed away a little more than a year after the move. The Times spoke to Robert Alleva of the neighboring cheese store, who said, ''You think of Little Italy, you think of Louie Rossi sitting there on his chair. There'd be like a gazillion things everywhere, and you would ask him for something from 1959. And he'd move a couple of boxes and pull it out."

''Him still being here was like Little Italy still existed,'' said Mr. Rossi's son. ''By seeing him, it was still here.''

Luigi Rossi, film still

This all happened a few years ago, and isn't news, but it is a look back at how a neighborhood can vanish and change in big chunks, just like that, like a glacier that's been slowly melting over the eons, then suddenly calves, crumbling into nothing, altering the ecosystem in an instant.

Right now, numbers 185, 187, and 189 Grand Street are on the market as one package, and we have to wonder what will happen to that chunk of Little Italy when it sells.

Watch the film here


Marco said...

Thanks for posting the link to the movie "Closing Time". It was fascinating and sad.

ShatteredMonocle said...

We don't have to wonder. From the listing:
"Upon sale, the entire ground floor could potentially be delivered vacant creating a unique opportunity for one retail tenant to occupy 60' of frontage on Grand Street and 75' of frontage on Mulberry Street."

Melanie said...

A great piece Jeremiah. I miss the old hood too.

Marty Wombacher said...

Great post and a sad piece of history. P.S. The link to the film isn't opening for me. Is this just me or is anyone else having trouble with it?

Jeremiah Moss said...

the page for the film is loading very slowly right now, but it was working earlier. maybe a bunch of people are trying to view it?

Marco said...

I think your link crashed folkways' server!

nycgirl said...

The effects of gentrification are bad they price out business owners, renters, and it takes away the originality of the neighborhood. Very sad.

Jeremiah Moss said...

sorry Folkways! hopefully, they can get it back up and running so you can enjoy this excellent little film.

Jeremiah Moss said...

try this link:

Marty Wombacher said...

Thanks for finding and posting the YouTube link, JM. Sure would've liked to have spent time in there.

chris flash said...


Have you compiled a list of NYC time capsules -- small businesses that have been in place for more than 30 years, in which you feel like you've stepped back in time? There are so few of them remaining that folks ought to be urged to patronize them and experience something special.

I can think of just a few at the moment:
• Ray's Candy Store at 7th Street + Avenue A
• Poseidon Bakery on Ninth Avenue, between 45th + 46th Street
• Veniero's on East 11th Street, between First + Second Avenue

Jeremiah Moss said...

i haven't, Chris, but it's a good idea. off the top of my head, i'd add Moishe's Bakery to that list and Manganaro's for sure.