America’s Oldest Cheese Store Set To Close While New York Retail Braces

It may have survived two World Wars, 9/11 and the global financial crisis, while counting Leah Remini, Michael Imperioli, Alice Cooper and Joey Reynolds among its celebrity customers, but the oldest cheese shop in Manhattan is on borrowed time.

In fact considered the oldest in cheese purveyor in America, Alleva Dairy has succumbed to the impact of the pandemic and a $600,000 rent bill.

Alleva Dairy’s potential demise comes at a time when cold winds are blowing through the Manhattan retail markets, as space take-up slows.

As for Alleva Dairy, after financial struggles caused by the Covid crisis, the cheese store has less than a month left at the corner of Mulberry Street and Grand Street in Manhattan’s famous Little Italy district, its only ever location across 130 years.

Current owner Karen King bought Alleva Dairy with her husband Cha Cha and actor Tony Danza (a friend of Cha Cha’s) a decade ago and when her husband died in 2015, King was determined to keep Alleva afloat. But when the pandemic hit, and businesses in the tourist-centric area were crippled by shutdowns, debts began to rack up.

“We’re supposed to be out by March 5,” owner Karen King told NBC New York — meaning that it could be less than 30 days before the end of an era.

Agreement Means Relocation

Business had slowly returning to normal for the neighborhood operator, well known locally for its fresh cheeses and sandwiches, but the shop fell two years behind on rent payments and filed for bankruptcy.

The monthly rent is $23,756, according to court records and a protracted legal battle with the building’s landlord ensued after Alleva went in to Chapter 11 bankruptcy after racking up almost $628,000 in back rent since the start of the pandemic.

In April 2022, King had said she was willing to pay the money but asked for time in order to meet her commitments. However, King said she and the landlord ultimately reached an agreement releasing her of responsibility for the shop’s substantial financial debt as long as she vacates the Little Italy spot next month.

The historically Italian enclave of Little Italy stretches from Canal to Houston Streets, between Lafayette Street and the Bowery, and was created as immigrants from Naples and Sicily flooded the area in the 1880s. Now, it mostly focuses on the blocks surrounding Mulberry Street, where some of the trendiest apparel stores and hottest New York bars rub shoulders.

Alleva Dairy is not alone in struggling to shed the financial burdens of the pandemic and the global economic uncertainty created by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Manhattan retail market continued its upward swing in the fourth quarter of 2022, but only just.

Across 16 of Manhattan’s shopping corridors, ground-floor retail availability dropped slightly from the previous quarter, according to a report by advisor CBRE. The marginal decrease from 229 available spaces to 222 was the sixth straight quarterly improvement.

Rents Up But Market Cooling

Rents in the sector also saw a modest uptick. In the fourth quarter, the average asking rent was $615 per sq. ft., up 1.2% from the third quarter and 2.9% year-on-year.

The rolling four-quarter aggregate of square footage leased was 2.5 million sq. ft. — 11.6% above 2021 levels — but the quarterly lease volume decelerated 9.7% from the third quarter, breaking a streak of five consecutive quarterly gains.

The highest leasing velocity belonged to Soho, where more than 269,000 sq. ft. was taken up up across more than 50 transactions, with the biggest deal Capital One’sCOF
13,000 sq. ft. lease at 555 Broadway.

The apparel industry recorded the highest annual leasing volume by category, with 546,000 sq. ft. leased across 2022, including 107,000 sq. ft. in the fourth quarter. Sports retailer Adidas’ 39,000 sq. ft. renewal at 610 Broadway was the quarter’s largest.

As for Alleva Dairy, “I’m heartbroken. My heart is broken but I’m a fighter,” King told news agencies — adding that she remains hopeful that wide reporting of the imminent closure of a New York institution could yet help save the store.

Regardless, she hopes to be able to open Alleva Dairy somewhere else, maintaining a 130-year-old tradition.