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Neighborhood Groups Work to Boost Little Italy, Chinatown Foot Traffic

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In his 20 years as a small businessman in Little Italy, Joe Maino has learned a few things. The owner of several accessory shops along Mulberry Street, he knows most of his customers are visitors from someplace other than New York City. He also knows his stores are almost totally dependent on foot traffic.

Maino’s businesses are pretty typical in a neighborhood that relies on tourists for its very survival.  It was with this reality very much in mind that three neighborhood organizations called a news conference yesterday to discuss strategies for increasing foot traffic in Little Italy and Chinatown.

Victor Papa of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership and Ralph Tramontana of the Little Italy Merchants Association unveiled a study conducted late last year on the effectiveness of the information kiosk at Canal and Baxter Street.

The study found that, while the kiosk helps guide visitors into the two neighborhoods, it could be a lot more effective as a “way-finding” station. Planning consultant Robert Weber detailed the information gleaned from the survey, which consisted of interviews with 100 people on Canal Street last fall. Among the findings:

  • 61% were staying in a hotel.
  • 77% arrived in the neighborhood via subway.
  • 22% walked from Soho.
  • 67% didn’t know there was an information agent inside the kiosk.
  • Only 10% knew that Mott Street is known as the “heart of Chinatown.”
  • 26% knew Mulberry Street is the heart of Little Italy.

The organizations have been in contact with city officials to discuss improvements to the kiosk as well as adding “way-finding” signage in other locations. Along with the Museum of Chinese in America, they have also applied for a grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corp.

For starters, they’d like the kiosk map to more clearly identify Mott and Mulberry Streets. They’d also like to find ways to establish the two streets as “gateways” into the key shopping districts.

Papa said community leaders in the two neighborhoods see a lot of value in marketing Chinatown and Little Italy as a single tourist destination. Last year, he led a successful effort to designate both communities as one national historic district.

Chen said there’s a big opportunity for increased foot traffic with the opening of the 9/11 memorial, which will almost certainly be the top destination for visitors to New York City for decades to come. The organizations want to make sure there’s ample signage directing visitors to the East Side.

Tramontana called Chinatown and Little Italy “living museums for our cultures.” He added, “we don’t want to be the last generations to walk through” these neighborhoods.

Papa said the groups would continue to press for funding and intended to work collaboratively on events and programs highlighting the neighborhoods’ unique historic, cultural and culinary offerings.

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