The more things change, the more they stay the same. Welcome to Wilmington’s own slice of the Old Country.
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They are. With the help of television producer Jack Fischer, “The Bells on the Hill” will bring to life those pictures. It will also pay homage to legendary St. Anthony’s pastor Robert Balducelli. A native of Italy, Father Robert, a hale and hearty 97, pastor for more than 50 years, led the volunteers that built the schools and other properties. Says Perodi, “We really wanted to do something to mark his legacy here.”
Though roots are both foundation and identity, renewal and growth are the hallmarks of a healthy community. That’s Little Italy.
“There’s a strong employment base, thanks in part to the auto businesses on Pennsylvania Avenue,” says Realtor Mike Porro. “St. Francis Hospital is another major employer, along with West End Neighborhood House. Newcomers are drawn by the ability to walk to their jobs, as well as the parks and restaurants.”
Woodlawn Library on Bancroft Parkway is another asset, Porro says. “The community meetings here are filled with residents, and then there’s the pleasant Wawaset Park pedestrian bridge, which connects the community with surrounding residential areas for easy access to restaurants and other attractions.”
Little Italy’s appeal stretches all the way back to the Old Country. In 2001 Ciro Poppiti, whose roots run deep in the neighborhood, attended a meeting in Philadelphia conducted by the Italian Consul General, where he learned Italy was interested in establishing trade with individual states here. Poppiti then gathered an ad hoc team of Delaware leaders at Madeline’s Italian Restaurant to talk about a trade mission.
In 2005 then-Governor Ruth Ann Minner went to Italy, where she invited a delegation to visit Delaware while she hosted the national Council of State Legislatures in Wilmington. The visit was a big success, not incidentally due to local Columbus Day festivities. The Italians were impressed. In 2008 they opened the Italian Mountain Development Agency office on the Riverfront.
“Businessmen from Italy use IMDA to meet with business leaders here to establish trade relations,” Poppiti says. “Delaware and Wilmington are strategic locations for Italian trade groups.” Wilmington’s banking and finance network is also an asset.
But Little Italy’s roots must continue to be nurtured. LINA’s mission statement stresses the importance of home ownership in keeping communities strong over time. “What has remained the same here is that we are still a tight community interested in maintaining our quality of life regarding public safety and noise, as well as owning versus renting,” Vitrone says.
Oei says he and Nanik are fortunate to have been “adopted.” “Italian pastries are difficult to make, but local residents gave us their family recipes to use for ourselves,” says Oei. “It’s still the real thing, though.”
And Little Italy remains the real thing, too.