The oldest cheese shop in America to close as it prepares for bankruptcy

The oldest cheese business in Manhattan may have seen two world wars, 9/11, and the financial crisis while serving Leah Remini, Michael Imperioli, Alice Cooper, and Joey Reynolds among other famous people, but its time is running out.

In fact, it is regarded as America's first cheese supplier. But a $600,000 rent pay cheque and the effects of the epidemic have crushed Alleva Dairy.

The possible collapse of Alleva Dairy occurs as space take-up slows and cold winds are blowing across Manhattan's retail sector.

For Alleva Dairy, it counts the days left at its only facility in Manhattan's renowned Little Italy neighborhood after facing financial difficulties brought on by the Covid crisis. Owner Karen King told NBC New York that they're meant to be gone by March 5.

Ten years ago, Karen King, her husband Cha Cha, and Tony Danza, an acquaintance of Cha Cha's, acquired Alleva Dairy. King, who lost her spouse in 2015, was adamant about keeping Alleva afloat. Debts started to mount up when the epidemic struck and shutdowns damaged the tourism area's companies.

The local business owner has seen a steady return to normalcy in his operations. While it was widely known in the neighborhood for its mouthwatering sandwiches and fresh cheeses, the store filed for bankruptcy after falling two years late on its rent.

According to court documents, the monthly rent is $23,756. A long legal dispute with the building's owner developed when Alleva filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after accruing about $628,000 in unpaid rent since the beginning of the epidemic.

King had said in April 2022 that she was ready to make the payment but needed more time to fulfill her obligations. She and the landlord eventually came to an arrangement wherein she is no longer held accountable for the shop's significant debt as long as she vacates the location in Little Italy by the end of the month.

Between Lafayette Street and the Bowery, from Canal to Houston Streets, is Little Italy, a historically Italian neighborhood that was established in the 1880s as a result of the influx of immigrants from Naples and Sicily. Currently, it mostly concentrates on the blocks around Mulberry Street, where some of the hottest clothing retailers and New York clubs coexist.

The financial pressures of the epidemic and the instability in the global economy brought on by Russia's invasion of Ukraine are not unique to Alleva Dairy.  The fourth quarter of 2022 witnessed a modest continuation of the increasing trend in the Manhattan retail sector.

According to a survey by broker CBRE, ground-floor retail availability decreased significantly from the previous quarter along 16 of Manhattan's main corridors. The sixth consecutive quarter of progress saw a slight drop in the number of available spots, from 229 to 222.

Rents are rising, but the market is cooling

The sector's rents also saw a little increase. The average asking rent in the fourth quarter was $615 per square foot, up 1.2% from the third quarter and 2.9% from the previous year.

2.5 million square feet were leased over the course of the rolling four quarters, which is 11.6% more than in 2021, but the quarterly lease volume slowed down from the third quarter by 9.7%, ending a run of five straight quarters of growth.

The area with the fastest leasing velocity was Soho, where more than 269,000 square feet was leased in more than 50 deals, with Capital One's COF +1.3% 13,000 square foot contract at 555 Broadway being the largest.

The largest yearly leasing volume was in the garment sector, with 546,000 square feet leased through 2022, including 107,000 square feet in the fourth quarter. The highest renewal for the quarter was for the sports retailer Adidas' 39,000 square foot space at 610 Broadway.

About Alleva Dairy, King told news outlets "I’m heartbroken. My heart is broken but I’m a fighter," adding that she is still optimistic that widespread coverage of a New York institution's impending demise can help preserve the business.

In any case, she wants to be able to continue a 130-year heritage by opening Alleva Dairy someplace else.