A fight in Manhattan’s Little Italy neighborhood between a landlord who wants a tenant out and a tenant who doesn’t want to leave isn’t your run-of-the-mill New York City real estate struggle.
That’s because the landlord is a museum dedicated to the legacy of Italian-Americans, and the tenant is an 85-year-old Italian-American grandmother who has lived there for more than 50 years.
“Why would you want to throw me out when I lived here all my life?” asked Adele Sarno, a feisty, raspy-voiced woman who proudly tells how she once even served as queen of the annual Feast of San Gennaro, Little Italy’s most well-known event. “This is my neighborhood.”
Sarno said the fight over her $820-a-month, two-bedroom apartment above the Italian American Museum began about five years ago. That’s when she received a letter seeking to increase that rent to $3,500 a month, far more than the retired shopkeeper says she can afford.
The spat is the latest involving the museum to cause a commotion in Little Italy, a neighborhood of former tenement buildings and narrow streets in Lower Manhattan that was once a bustling center of Italian immigrant life. An Italian restaurant that had been open for decades closed its doors last week in a separate rent-related dispute.
“The negative press that this has caused is so detrimental to the spirit of the Italian immigrant,” said Lou Di Palo, whose family has run an Italian specialty foods shop in Little Italy for over a century. “I’m upset over it.”