BY THE VILLAGE SUN | Following a partial wall collapse on Jan. 10, the Little Italy building that once housed America’s oldest cheese shop must now be demolished, the Department of Buildings has ordered.
Last Wednesday, part of the four-story structure’s exterior brick wall on Mulberry Street buckled and crumbled, leaving a gaping hole open to its vacant first floor.
According to D.O.B., illegal and unauthorized structural renovation work was going on at the building, located at 188 Grand St.
The place’s ground floor has been empty since this past spring, when Alleva Dairy, which had been there for more than 130 years, vacated the space. Karen King, the historic cheese shop’s owner, owed the landlord more than $500,000 in back rent from during the COVID pandemic slowdown. Under a settlement, she paid $31,000 and agreed to vacate in March.
In a statement after the collapse, King said, “Like most people, I was shocked to learn about the collapse of the second floor at 188 Grand Street, the former home of my beloved Alleva Dairy, the oldest cheese shop in America.
“Typically, on any given day there would have been dozens of people in the store buying fresh mozzarella and cannolis.
“Thank God, no one was hurt, and everyone is safe.”
Late Friday afternoon, after hearing that an emergency demolition had now been ordered for the entire building, King said, “My heart just fell a couple of beats.”
Alleva Dairy had been planning to reopen at a new location in nearby Lyndhurst, New Jersey. However, asked where things stood with that on Monday, a spokesperson for King said, “No update.”
What kind of use or tenant the ground floor was being renovated for was not immediately clear. However, the building’s upper floors were occupied by The Farm, a trendy-sounding, “rustic Americana” co-working space with reclaimed-wood tables, which boasted, as its “standout feature,” a rooftop space with a coffee bar.
“It’s not just what’s inside The Farm Soho — it’s WHERE we’re based that makes this New York’s go-to coworking hotspot for entrepreneurs, early-stage startups, and freelancers who want to be immersed in a dynamic environment,” the site says. “Strategically located in most desired neighborhoods in New York, you will be close to all major subway lines, surrounded by myriad of restaurants and cafes and bars to blow off steam from your busy schedule.”
Little Italy activist Sante Scardillo lives four blocks from the doomed building. He said that a couple of months ago, he first noticed a sidewalk construction shed with green-painted plywood siding outside the property, indicating a renovation was going on.
In a side note, he said, a 25th anniversary party for “The Sopranos” cast members was held last Wednesday at Da Nico restaurant, just up Mulberry Street from 188 Grand St., which added to what he described as all “the brouhaha” on the street that evening.
“D.O.B. condemned the building,” he said of 188 Grand. “All work was illegal: Permits had not been issued.
“It seems a ploy to build bigger,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how they plan to circumvent the Little Italy Special Zoning District.”
According to the special zoning, the corner lot could be rebuilt a bit taller than it was — around one story taller, if there were no setbacks from the property line.
Meanwhile, the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors are concerned that the emergency demolition could cause yet more destruction. Mitchell Grubler, the chairperson of BAN’s Landmarks Committee, wrote to Sarah Carroll, the chairperson of the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, warning about the safety of two adjacent landmarks.
“Given the D.O.B. demolition order…we are gravely concerned about the stability of the adjoining Federal-style individual landmarks at 190 and 192 Grand Street,” he wrote. “We hope that L.P.C. can closely work with D.O.B. to ensure that no damage comes to the abutting landmarks. Surely L.P.C. does not wish to see yet another landmark added to the recent list of buildings damaged or lost in this way.”