By Kathryn Roberts
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. As a nation mourned the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an aroma of spices and sweets drifted down Arthur Avenue Sunday for the 19th consecutive year at the annual Ferragosto Festival. Tourists, neighborhood locals and students navigated through crowded streets, amassed food tents and live performers. The event was hosted by the non-profit organization, Bronx Little Italy.
For some restaurant and shop owners, the Italian festival provides an opportunity to reconnect with old customers, old business partners and friends.
“The people who lived here, who were born here, moved away. This is like a reunion. It gets better and better every year,” said Gill Teitel, owner of the historic Teitel meat and cheese market, which has operated for over 100 years in the Belmont area.
The Bronx celebration traditionally takes place the Sunday after Labor Day, and draws crowds of between 20,000-28,000 people, according to self reported statistics by the organization.
Jacklyn Onody, FCRH ’20, said she has gone to Arthur Avenue with her whole family since she was a little girl. “We would spend the whole day in line in order to get all of our food for Christmas dinner,” said Onody.
Ferragosto is a centuries-old celebration that originated in Italy and is traditionally celebrated in August. The festival is intended to coincide with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary. The Bronx Ferragosto is celebrated at the end of the harvest season, a time in which workers can enjoy the fruits of their labors. This year, the event had a political purpose as well. Residents of the Belmont community have been working with local politicians to raise money for victims of the 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Italy in late August that all but decimated the town of Amatrice, killing nearly 300 civilians according to the Washington Post. The wreckage has left over 4 thousand homeless.
Nestled amongst Ferragosto vendors was the tent for The Italian Disaster Relief Fund, which offered pamphlets and information for the festival goers as to how they could get involved.
This year featured performances from Two Gents & The Lady featuring Elio Scaccio, Vincent Ricciardi and Julie Anna Gulenko, The 70’s Project, Uncle Floyd, Sal Valentinetti and Nick Vero. The event was sponsored by Pepsi, New Rochelle Chevrolet, Divella and Con EdPeroni, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Stepping Out NYC.
Dorothy Albert, a Bronx native, now lives in New Jersey with her husband Gary but makes an effort to attend the festival each year. For Dorothy, the visit back brings back childhood memories in the Belmont area.
“I used to come to Arthur Avenue when I was a kid with my dad,” Albert said. “He used to buy all of his meats up here.” She continues the tradition.