The more things change, the more they stay the same. Welcome to Wilmington’s own slice of the Old Country.
(page 2 of 5)
Cornerstone West, an effort of St. Francis Hospital and West End Neighborhood House, is a not-for-profit corporation that turns blighted homes into rental and ownership opportunities. Molly Keresztury, assistant director of development for West End, says Cornerstone has built or renovated 240 resident-owned homes since 1999 and has helped in renovations and improvements to another 94 homes. “Where we’ve completed these projects,” Keresztury says, “property values have risen more than 100 percent.”
Toren Williams bought a twin townhome through Cornerstone seven years ago. “I bought in Little Italy because of the design and price,” says the 30-something architect. “But since then, I’ve come to see the neighborhood as close-knit, where everyone knows everyone else.”
Ensuring quality housing has been key in keeping Little Italy away from what Calistro calls the “tipping point” at which a community begins an irreversible downward spiral. He and other local leaders knew a change in attitude would have to accompany physical improvements.
“There was a time about 13 years ago, when businesses and residents were at odds with each other,” Calistro says. “Conflicts over parking and noise were at the head of the list.” Part of that stemmed from Little Italy having evolved into a bar community, more than a restaurant hub. “We had to find common ground on what it took to bring in outside capital instead of just locally generated revenues,” Calistro says. Little Italy has since emerged as a dining destination.
The restaurant industry achieved a real boost when Italy native Guiseppe Furio took over Restaurante Pomodoro Italiano on Union Street in July 2009. “I make all my mozzarella, pasta and sausage from scratch,” says Furio, “and my seafood comes directly from the Mediterranean.”
An early pioneer of the Little Italy restaurant revival was Brooklyn native Luigi Vitrone, who arrived in 1988 and opened the popular Pastabilities at Fifth and Lincoln.
“I previously owned restaurants in Baltimore and Columbia [Maryland] and had traveled to Little Italy many times to buy fresh ricotta from Fierro’s,” Vitrone says. “Vinny Fierro would always tell me that I should come here and open a restaurant.”
Vitrone started other restaurants in other cities, but he always kept Fierro’s advice in mind. “One day I read a story in the Wall Street Journal about Wilmington’s Riverfront development. When I visited the area, it wasn’t quite ready, but I still saw the need for my type of Northern Italian cuisine.”
Page 3: Ciao, Italia, continues...