An iconic Little Italy shop might have to close for good due to the financial strain from the pandemic.
"Alleva Dairy" has been selling fresh cheese since 1892, and is considered to be the oldest cheese store in America. But Little Italy businesses were hit especially hard during COVID, and it might be too much for "Alleva" to come back from.
Business at the neighborhood staple is slowly getting back on track, after having recently expanded to become a café, offering things like arancini and sandwiches.
But owner Karen King says the Manhattan mainstay is in jeopardy, with the pandemic having wiped out a lot of their business.
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“We virtually worked for nothing. We could not pay the rent," King said.
The lack of tourists and having many restaurants that used to buy Alleva Dairy cheese in bulk close down combined to badly hamper the shop that King calls "the corner and heart of Little Italy."
Alleva is now nearly two years — more than $500,000 — behind in rent.
"I’m willing to pay the rent, I’m willing to pay the back rent. I’m asking for time to be able to pay that," said King.
The landlord has taken them to court, demanding the money. King said she’s done her best to pivot and keep business alive.
"I had deliveries of bread, eggs, milk, and of course cheese and butter. All the things people need," she said.
But it's not enough. Decades of history and neighborhood legacy may not survive the pandemic hurdle. That's a reality King is not ready to face.
She's hoping the state or federal government can step in with more assistance to struggling businesses — anything to help the oldest cheese shop in the U.S. stay open.
"I’m gonna fight until I can’t fight anymore but I’m keeping these doors open," she said. "I’ve kept them open this long and I’m gonna keep them open. I’m not giving up."