District gives way to Chinese grocery stores, trinket shops

Although the thud and clack of bocce balls can still be heard from DeSalvio Playground, and restaurants continue to hawk cannelloni to passing tourists on Mulberry Street, the parameters of New York’s most colorful Italian neighborhood is shrinking. Little Italy — enshrined in Scorsese’s “Mean Streets,” Coppola’s “The Godfather” and Andrew Bergman’s “The Freshman”– has given way to Chinese grocery stores, trinket shops and “fuggedaboutit” T-shirts.

The New York Mayor’s Office of Film, Theater and Broadcasting cannot verify that fewer films are being made in this historic district, but directors hoping to capture this cradle of immigrant history are going to have to cheat out the Chinese herbalists and souvenir stands.

“It was shrinking when I was shooting there” in the late ’80s, says Bergman of Little Italy. “But it was a great location. You’d always try to use real people as background. They were always ready.”

Now many of those extras would be speaking Mandarin. Still, this is the way of New York — a city where immigrant neighborhoods stack up layer over layer. To nostalgically capture Little Italy now, you might need a studio setup on a Burbank backlot.

“They do it all the time,” says Bergman. “Shooting on location is a fairly recent thing. It wasn’t true in the ’20s and ’30s. Then, the Lower East Side was in Burbank.”

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