Piazza di Belmont Showcases Arthur Avenue’s Resiliency Throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Many restaurants expnaded their outdoor dining areas into the street for Piazza di Belmont. (Julian Navarro/ The Fordham Ram)

Julian Navarro, Contributing Writer

On a Friday afternoon at Morrone Pastry Shop and Cafe on Arthur Avenue, just below 186th Street, patrons sip cappuccinos outdoors and watch the employees across the street at Cosenza’s Fish Market shuck oysters and clams for their masked customers. Teitel Brothers still smells like two-year-old parmesan cheese and cured meat. At all the restaurants in sight, crews of hosts and servers tuck in their shirts, and delivery men turn on their motorized bikes. 

Arthur Avenue has been closed to all vehicular traffic on the blocks between 188th Street and Crescent Avenue on the weekends since July 9, the official opening of Piazza di Belmont. 

“Piazza di Belmont, a charming open space, where pedestrians can stroll through Arthur Avenue from East 188th St to Crescent Ave for al fresco dining is open Thursdays-Saturdays 6 p.m.-10 p.m. & Sundays 1 p.m.-9:30 p.m.,” according to the Bronx Little Italy Business Guide

In an Instagram post, City Councilmember Ritchie Torres commemorated the July 9 opening with an exclamation in his caption, “That’s amore!” 

Blocking off the street allowed businesses to expand their outdoor seating capacities by moving chairs and tables out into the empty street. Throughout the pandemic, restaurants have remained reliant on outdoor seating for continued business, even after indoor dining was phased in on Wednesday, Sept. 30. 

Cafe Nocciola is a business that recently set up operations in the street outside their storefront in the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. Trish, a baker at Cafe Nocciola, said bagging up zeppoles and handing out Italian ices has worked well in the outdoors, but she is wary of the approaching cold weather. 

“I think it helps business a good bit. Hopefully, they can extend it into the winter. It’s nice,” she said. 

The expansion for businesses has been nice for patrons as well. James McGann, FCRH ’23, said he appreciated the lack of cars on the weekends. 

“It’s pretty great not to have cars whizzing by you when you’re eating. It’s like going to a block party when you go out to eat,” he said. 

However, the pleasantries of having the street closed have not been uniformly positive for restaurants. At Gerbasi Ristorante, where their outdoor patio has been utilized for much of the summer already, a server, Jose, said nothing has changed for the better.

“I don’t think the street closing is good for business,” said Jose, “It’s nice for people to walk around, off the sidewalk, but as many people, as usual, will still just walk past like any other day.”  

Beyond any stagnancy, the street closures have complicated things at Gerbasi. 

“Yesterday, I had a takeout order, and the woman called to cancel after her food was made because she couldn’t drive down the street to pick it up,” said Jose when asked about the cons of Piazza di Belmont.  “She said, ‘Sorry,’ she said she had to go. She couldn’t get down the street with her car.” 

Jose said that other employees at Gerbasi have had to face the same dilemma but that he is happy with the way things are progressing during the pandemic.

Beckett Zinn-Rowthorn, FCRH ’23, said the community’s resiliency through the pandemic can be ascribed to the culture that Piazza di Belmont embodies. 

“I think it’s fantastic … it really opens up the street for people to move around freely while maintaining social distance,” said Zinn-Rowthorn. “I hope the city will make it permanent.”