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Famed Little Italy cheese store trying to raise enough cheddar to remain

BY JULIET CAMA | Little Italy’s prized Alleva Dairy faces an impending threat of closure. Established in 1892, Alleva Dairy is the oldest cheese store in America, having survived many hardships. Since its opening, the shop has remained at the corner of Mulberry and Grand Streets, the heart of Little Italy.

Karen King and her husband John “Cha Cha” Ciarcia bought the store in 2014. After Ciarcia died in 2015, King has has continued to run the historic shop, and she is determined to keep its doors open.

“I don’t want to be a COVID statistic,” King said. “I believe that if I leave, a big piece of history is going to be lost.”

(Courtesy Alleva Dairy)
Karen King has run Alleva Dairy since 2015. (Courtesy Alleva Dairy)

Pre-pandemic, Alleva’s primary source of revenue was through tourism. As a result, the lockdown caused Alleva to fall behind on rent due to cratered sales. King then advertised catering and selling to Little Italy locals.

King has made many efforts to save Alleva but to no avail due to a lack of government support, she said. Despite getting approved for a small business grant, Alleva was left in the lurch when the government program’s funding ran out.

“Alleva should have gotten the grant money. Alleva should have been supported like other businesses,” King stressed. “The people who are saved are the people who got the grant money.”

The store specializes in Italian cheese — and, naturally, cannolis. (Courtesy Alleva Dairy)
An old tax photo showing the Little Italy store. (Courtesy Alleva Dairy)

After losing out on the funding, King applied for a small business loan to pay her rent arrears. The store’s rent is reportedly more nearly $24,000 per month.

After months of waiting, the loan was finally approved and she offered the landlord $250,000, with the rest to be paid later. However, the landlord still decided to take Alleva to court, demanding the full amount, more than half a million dollars.

Now King is looking for help from New Yorkers to save the beloved shop.

“Come support a historic piece of history to save Little Italy,” King urged.

An old-time delivery truck for the latticini, Italian for “dairy store.” (Courtesy Alleva Dairy)

The shop offers fresh cheeses, such as mozzarella and ricotta, and other delicacies, like salami and soppressata.

“Our sandwiches are so big that no one ever leaves hungry from Alleva!” King declared.

She is vowing not to surrender her store, and hopes it will live on for at least another hundred years.

“It’s exciting, wonderful. It’s the best place in the world to be,” King said of her classic culinary hot spot. “I have a piece of history, and I’m not going to let a piece of history go down the tubes.”

10 Comments

  1. June F June F April 25, 2022

    Where is the help you need for small businesses to survive after a pandemic hits the economy? I hope and pray they can save this wonderful deli!

  2. David Thall David Thall April 25, 2022

    I certainly sympathize with Ms. King, and I wish her luck saving her store.

    However, as some who has lived in SoHo for 32, and shopped there regularly, my experience there really went downhill – several years ago, well before the pandemic.

    I’m not referring to the quality of the cheese, which was very good, but the service.

    Specifically, the cheeses are not inexpensive there, so when buying a reasonable quantity and variety it’s easy to spend over $50. The problem was, every single time I tried to pay with a credit card — their store clerk failed to get their charge card reader to work.

    After repeated attempts –- eating up a lot of time –- it was always the same story — she would apologize and say it was working before, and ask me, would I mind “paying in cash?”

    If it was two or three times, I wouldn’t have thought much of it. But after repeated visits over many months, it became clear that this was a scam. They wanted to collect cash. For obvious reasons. My guess is, either the clerks or someone else — wanted to do big cash transactions to skim profits — or maybe avoid paying sales tax.

    Bottom line: After using up all my cash there over half a dozen times, I stopped shopping there. Sorry, but something was definitely not kosher there for several years.

    That said, I hope they survive.

    • Sharon Barnett Sharon Barnett April 26, 2022

      Please come back, I am sure they would be happy to serve you.

      • Sharon Barnett Sharon Barnett April 26, 2022

        I have been shopping there for many years and neither myself nor my friends nor family have ever experienced any credit card problems.

  3. Rosalie Cuesta Rosalie Cuesta April 26, 2022

    Mr. Thall… As a person who knows Karen extremely well, I do not agree with your statement. She does not run her business dishonestly. It’s unfortunate that the machine malfunctioned more than once when you shopped there, but to make a statement like you did isn’t fair.

  4. Rosalie Cuesta Rosalie Cuesta April 26, 2022

    Mr. Thall…I’ve given what you stated lots of thought. I’ve been shopping at Alleva for years. I have paid with my card and have never encountered a problem. I find your statements to be very insulting and damaging. You also stated that you have lived in SoHo for 32 years and have shopped there regularly. Just like you, I’ve been a resident of Manhattan for 63 years. I was introduced to shopping there with my Italian immigrant parents when I was born. I’m posting your damaging statement below, which I find to be extremely intense and unwarranted.
    “But after repeated visits over many months, it became clear that this was a scam. They wanted to collect cash. For obvious reasons. My guess is, either the clerks or someone else — wanted to do big cash transactions to skim profits — or maybe avoid paying sales tax.
    Bottom line: After using up all my cash there over half a dozen times, I stopped shopping there. Sorry, but something was definitely not kosher there for several years.”

    • David Thall David Thall April 28, 2022

      So if someone reports an experience that doesn’t reflect your personal experience, you’re “very insulted”?

      You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.

      My post had zero to do with you. Get over it.

  5. Rosalie Cuesta Rosalie Cuesta April 30, 2022

    Perhaps I was not clear. Your comments were very insulting toward Alleva and the staff. It seems to me that you’re the one who needs to get over it instead of making the accusations that you made.

    • David Thall David Thall April 30, 2022

      Do you know what they call someone who personally attacks strangers on social media?

      A troll.

      Sharing my experience shopping there had zero to do with you. Curb your ego. Get a life.

  6. ItalianFoodLovers ItalianFoodLovers May 5, 2022

    Unfortunately, for us, living since the ’60s 2 blocks away, the Alleva experience ended when the Alleva family sold the business. Everything we loved about Alleva went away quite quickly… The products we loved soon disappeared (certain sausages, certain grated cheeses, certain breads, certain prepared foods…) We were never interested in the sandwiches as we live around the corner but had many favorite items that are all long gone. Also the always-gentle service of the Alleva family was soon replaced by a much tougher and sometimes even rude manner. And, over the years, we have watched all the prices go up at an incredibly frantic rate!… While pre-2014, items might go up by a few cents once a year, suddenly they would go up by 25, 50, 75 cents, $1 every couple of months! Products we had been buying for years! (Maybe the new owners had a different rent deal than the previous ones and this was necessary… but we don’t know anything about that… All we know is that from our customers-of-many-years’ perspective it was pretty shocking…). So we switched over to Di Palo which we had always liked less… but now swear by them as their service is always dependable and predictable… the same since the last 8 years… Sorry Alleva! Hope you find a solution to keep going! We love seeing your shop on that corner! And we always keep hoping that you get more like you once were… soon…

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