I was kindly invited to attend “Bronx Little Italy Walking Tour” from Bronx Historical Tours (http://www.bronxhistoricaltours.com) in late July. That was a private tour for a group of historians, and Alexandra Maruri, the founder and president of Bronx Historical Tours, was the tour guide of the day.
As a former travel industry professional, I can emphasize to say this; the view of a destination is different before and after joining a tour. The reason is simple. You will be able to know much better local history and background than the guidebooks by a professional tour guide who knows them in depth. You can still enjoy walking around the sites without joining a tour, but sightseeing with more information is much more knowledgeable, meaningful, and fun.
That case was same too. I’ve lived in the Bronx for more than 3 years and visited the “Bronx Little Italy” several times by myself. But I didn’t have much knowledge of the area. I just thought the area was for shopping Italian items. By the tour, I learned many historical backgrounds and more importantly, could experience I wouldn’t be able to do without that special tour.
The “Bronx Little Italy” is Arthur Avenue, located near Fordham University in the central Bronx. Individual “Bronx Little Italy Walking Tour” by Bronx Historical Tours usually starts at Grand Central Station, but that private tour started at Fordham Station of Metro-North for everyone’s convenience.
First, Alexandra briefly explained about the area and Fordham University located right next to the train station. I didn’t know the university’s name was St. John’s College first until joining the tour. Founded in 1841, the university holds more than 16,000 students in 85 acres main Bronx campus today. Alexandra explained that the 2nd largest employment sector in the Bronx is education after hospitals in the Bronx. The Bronx also has Lehman College and Bronx Community Community College, and Monroe College has a campus in the borough, too. Regarding the top employment sector, medical, the Bronx has many large hospitals such as Jacobi Medical Center, Montefiore, Bronx-Lebanon, and Albert Einstein. Alexandra explained that unemployment rate of the Bronx is 6%. The number was actually lower than my expectation.
Then the tour proceeded to Arthur Avenue, 4 blocks away from the train station and university. Alexandra explained Arthur Avenue was named after the 21st president of the United States, Chester Arthur.
I had noticed that many students entered into Arthur Avenue from city buses before but didn’t know why. Alexandra explained to us that Fordham University built dormitories in the Arthur Avenue area as their expansion, and usually higher grade students lived in those dormitories. The dormitories looked like more luxurious with air-conditioners and security gates than other traditional apartments in the area. I told an older gentleman in the group “Those students get rich! My dormitory didn’t even have AC when I was in a college!”. He replied me “My dormitory was subway!”. We laughed.
According to Alexandra, Arthur Avenue area experienced downfall by the closure of 3rd Avenue elevated rail (formerly 8 train, ran above nearby 3rd Avenue) in 1973. The neighborhood shops lost their customers and convenience by the termination of intra-urban rail service. The line’s closure also affected many parts of the Bronx and resulted that many residents moved away from the Bronx, such as Westchester County and Connecticut. Ace Frehley of KISS, who grew up nearby area, briefly mentioned about that decline (click here). Though the area still has many Italian stores, the local residents are more Latinos and Fordham University students today.
After the historic Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, the group visited many local food stores and had an important opportunity to hear interesting stories from them. That was one thing I couldn’t experience without a tour. In fact, I didn’t hear any story from the stores when I previously visited.
Arthur Avenue area has a wide diverse of fresh food stores, such as pasta stores, bakery, pastry stores, fish market, meat market…etc. Alexandra told us those pasta stores, bakery, and pastry stores in the neighborhood produced their products not only for them but also the restaurants and shops in Manhattan including Little Italy. I even didn’t know the area’s stores had their own factory until joining the tour. One store even showed us how they made pasta in the store. That was the moment I realized that many bakeries in Arthur Avenue area regularly delivered their breads to my neighborhood stores. Arthur Avenue was one of the important Italian gourmet sources in New York City.
We also had many opportunities of food sample tastings at the stores, specially arranged by Alexandra for that group. Because the regular “Bronx Little Italy Tour” includes one food sample, please take a look at the following photos as just examples. The individual tour participants might get one from them or others. Either way, they will experience a fantastic Italian tasting.
CALABRIA PORK STORE: no website
ADDRESS: 2338 Arthur Ave, Bronx, NY 10458 (map)
There were two stores significantly memorable for me. One was Randazzo’s Seafood. That store had the freshest seafood in New York City I’d ever seen. It was my first time to see live eel at a seafood market in New York City also. Oh, you don’t like the eel? So delicious, healthy and a good energy source in the summer.
Another store was La Cantina Wine and Liquor. They had a wide range of interesting wines from all over the world at reasonable prices. They also offered wine tasting from 6 kinds. My favorite was Fox Run from Finger Lake region of Upstate New York. That Chardonnay was light and refreshing, matched with the hot summer season. Most of all, it was my first time to see a wine from Finger Lakes region. Long Island and Hudson Valley were typically known for wine regions in New York State, but I didn’t know about Finger Lakes. I bought a bottle at the store.
I am sure Alexandra took a lot of hard works for those arrangements with the stores for the group tour. Needless to say, I believe Alexandra and Bronx Historical Tours made those fantastic store experiences with ample food samples possible because they gained a lot of trust from the local businesses on Arthur Avenue area through their experience. Thanks, Alexandra!
Arthur Avenue also had a public market, Arthur Avenue Market, one of 4 city-operated markets in New York City. The market had a beer hall and a flower store beside food stores, but one interesting store was a cigar store just in front of Arthur Avenue side entrance. La Casa Grande Tobacco had open counters and people could see their handmade production of fresh cigars. Each staff had a different role; one dried the leaves, one rolled cigar, etc. It was interesting to see.
- OTHER PHOTOS OF ARTHUR AVENUE AREA (INCLUDING THOSE TAKEN PREVIOUSLY)
The tour gave me an important opportunity to learn about my home borough deeper. It’s an unfortunate fact that many tourists don’t include the Bronx during their stay in New York City by the negative images from the past, but the Bronx actually has many places to see. Who knows Bronx Little Italy is actually bigger than Manhattan’s Little Italy where the majority of tourists visit? Who knows the Bronx is the original for the important Italian food items, pasta, bread, and pastries consumed in Manhattan. And Bronx Little Italy has the wider variety of good quality stores than Manhattan’s Little Italy, not only restaurants and coffee shops. Don’t forget, people love New York City because this is an original and unique city like no other in the world, and the Bronx is one of the boroughs makes New York City unique.
FIND A VARIETY OF ATTRACTIVE BRONX TOURS BY BRONX HISTORICAL TOURS, NEW YORK CITY’S PIONEER OF BRONX SIGHTSEEING TOURS!
- About their “Bronx Little Italy Walking Tour”:
READ MORE ABOUT THE INTERESTING BACKGROUND OF THE BRONX THROUGH THE LIFE OF ACE FREHLEY FROM KISS, A GUITAR HERO FROM THE BRONX! THIS ARTICLE ALSO INCLUDES RECOMMENDED SIGHTSEEING AND RESTAURANT INFO IN THE BRONX.