America's Oldest Cheese Shop is Closing After Struggling to Make $23,756 a Month Rent
"My store is the oldest cheese shop in America and the heartbeat of Little Italy. We're a New York institution."
In the depths of New York City's Little Italy lives the oldest cheese shop in America, Alleva Dairy. Home to freshly sliced melt-in-your-mouth meats, creamy hazelnut cannolis, espresso sodas, and mozzarella made fresh daily, along with over 30 distinctive cheeses.
Like many now-closed restaurants, the beloved cheese shop could not survive the wrath of COVID-19. For that reason, the red and green-hued neon lights plastered outside of the Italian cheesery will shut off for good as the business closes its Grand St. doors on Mar. 1.
Karen King, the owner of Alleva Dairy, tells the New York Post, "My store is the oldest cheese shop in America and the heartbeat of Little Italy. We're a New York institution."
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The pandemic placed many restaurants in NYC on shaky ground, as businesses had to navigate a dwindling workforce and rent payments while trying to stay solvent and healthy. Under those circumstances, the food service sector lost 64% of its workforce, as stated in a grim report by the Office of the State Deputy Comptroller for the City of New York.
Since 1892, the cheese shop has survived countless NYC disasters, counting 9/11, SARs, and Hurricane Superstorm Sandy among them, yet COVID-19's impact on the family-owned and operated businesses, imparted lasting consequences, including about $628,000 in back rent, according to the New York Post.
About a 13-minute walk down the street from Alleva Dairy, another beloved eatery, Ming's Caffe, permanently shut its doors on Feb. 3. The Hong Kong-style cafe and shop known for their Congee and roasted turkey closed because they could no longer afford their rent, according to comments on Yelp.
"Chinatown lost 57% of food services jobs (compared to 45% citywide)," a study examining small business challenges in Manhattan's Chinatown shows. Many business owners trying to rise above COVID-19 relied heavily on government support. "I've written letters extensively to Senators and government officials. We met with the Governor's office and got lip service," King expressed to the New York Post.
One COVID-19 relief program, Restaurant Revitalization Fund, promised business owners support. However, the pot was quickly depleted as the demand exceeded the allocated grants. Many restaurant owners notified of grant awards were even met with cancellation notices due to lawsuits against the program. While King, like many passionate business owners, tried to advocate for her shop, unfortunately, she faced brick walls and no options.
Though the business is mourning its current shop, it still aspires to continue its legacy, even in a new location. As King says, "We are committed to remaining here in Little Italy, hopefully for another 130 years."