Home USA Little Italy’s oldest Italian shop threatened with closure #Italys #oldest #Italian #shop #threatened #closure

Little Italy’s oldest Italian shop threatened with closure #Italys #oldest #Italian #shop #threatened #closure

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E. Rossi and Co.’s Little Italy storefront, on the corner of Grand and Mulberry, appears to be just a typical gift shop, crammed with religious articles, music and kitchen equipment. (Otherwise known as the Italian essentials.) But the tourists who amble by — tipsy on Campari and full from pasta — might want to give it a second look.

It’s actually the oldest Italian gift shop in Little Italy, and perhaps in the United States.

“My grandfather Ernesto Rossi came here in 1900 and opened up for business 10 years later,” Ernest “Ernie” Rossi, Ernesto’s grandson and the shop’s owner, told The Post. The shop has been a cornerstone in the community, alongside the cannoli and espresso, for well over a century, employing a number of new immigrants to New York (including this writer’s grandmother, Olga).

Rossi, 71, has been working at the shop since he was a kid. “My uncle Pat used to give me a dollar a week,” he said. “And for a dollar I’d buy five slices of Sicilian pizza and a couple of Cokes.”

E. Rossi and Co. has been a staple of New York’s Little Italy for more than a century.
Stefano Giovannini
Ernie Rossi has been working at E. Rossi and Co. since he was a child.
Ernie Rossi has been working at his family’s gift shop, E. Rossi and Co., since he was a kid. He’s now 71.
Stefano Giovannini

Originally a hub for the exploding immigrant community, which sold Italian-language newspapers, magazines and books, E. Rossi and Co. soon became known as a chief importer of Italian music: first player piano rolls and then records. “My grandfather used to go back to Naples every year to participate in the Festival of Piedigrotta,” Rossi said of the now-defunct music festival which began in the 1800s.

 Ernesto Rossi founded E. Rossi and Co. in 1910.
Ernie’s grandfather, Ernesto Rossi, founded E. Rossi and Co. in 1910, a decade after he first came to New York from Italy.

His grandfather would scout both tunes and talent, leading him to launch his own publishing company. As a result, E. Rossi and Co. became an American gatekeeper for music from the old country, including the Neapolitan genre dubbed the Sceneggiata.

“It was a musical theater genre that focused on revenge plots,” said Dr. Reba A. Wissner, an assistant professor of Musicology at Columbus State University and one of the few experts on the artform. “When immigrants came to the United States from Italy, the stories shifted to longing for home and adjusting to a new land. Rossi’s shop sold a lot of sheet music from these plays.”

In "The Godfather: Part II," a young Vito Corleone, played by Robert De Niro, catches a Sceneggiata performance
The shop initially focused on selling sheet music for the Neapolitan genre known as Sceneggiata. In “The Godfather: Part II,” a key scene features a Sceneggiata performance.

While the artform has long fallen out of popularity, it’s forever immortalized in “The Godfather: Part II” when a young Vito Corleone, played by Robert De Niro, catches a Sceneggiata performance. “My father was actually very good friends with Francis Ford Coppola’s father,” Rossi said of the film’s director.

While the overflowing store still sells music in the form of CDs, it’s since shifted focus to items ranging from prayer cards to Bialetti espresso pots.

E. Rossi and Co. sells everything from espresso
In recent years, the E. Rossi and Co.’s focus has shifted from music to a vast assortment of Italian items, including Bialetti espresso pots and prayer cards.
Stefano Giovannini

But the last year has put the shop’s future in jeopardy.

After closing due to the state-mandated COVID-19 shutdown and reopening in late 2020, Rossi developed diverticulitis and was subsequently hospitalized.

Margaret Rossi passed away from Covid last spring.
Ernie Rossi’s wife of 51 years, Margaret, helped him run the shop. Sadly, she passed away from Covid earlier this year.
Courtesy Ernest Rossi.

“While I was in the hospital, my wife Margaret said, ‘Ernie, I’m going to keep the store open.’ I told her, ‘No, leave it closed.’ She said, ‘No, you’re gonna be closed for too long.’”

The shop stayed open, but in March Margaret and a close friend, Freddy, who helped her run things, were infected with the virus. They both passed away a short time later.

“We were married 51 years,” said Ernie. A songwriter himself known to serenade customers, he wrote a ballad dedicated to Margaret dubbed “The Other Side of Forever” that the singer Jenna Esposito recorded in tribute.

Due to the hardship, Ernie found himself behind on rent. Last April, a GoFundMe was set up to keep the store afloat as he finds himself in danger of closing for good. A court date with his landlords is set for Nov. 30. “I have to say it, they’ve been very patient so far and I’m sure we’ll be able to work something out,” he said. “I hope so.”

“Ernie’s shop is special because it is a landmark in Little Italy,” said Wissner. “It’s one of the few shops of its age to survive and which thrives on sales of Italian American imports.”

For Rossi, the store gives him a reason to carry on in the face of terrible loss.

“Sometimes people don’t come in to buy anything, but rather to say hello and say, ‘I’m happy to see you’re still here,’ ” he said. “I guess they probably feel that as long as I’m here, they still have these memories to come back to.”

The future for E. Rossi and Co. is uncertain.
Covid closures and health issues led Ernie Rossi to get behind on rent. Now, the future of E. Rossi and Co. is in question.
Stefano Giovannini



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#Italys #oldest #Italian #shop #threatened #closure

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