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Little Italy: perfect Baltimore [Commentary]

Over the past several months, Little Italy has been in the news quite a bit. Most of the items, it seems, have been related to incidents of crime, including a violent beating and robbing of a restaurant employee. Other items have been written on opinion pages regarding Little Italy's future or how it must change to remain relevant. What has been missing from these many lines of ink expended has been the view of anyone born and raised in Little Italy.

So let me tell you a little about my neighborhood. The neighborhood. We are not Inner Harbor East. We are Little Italy. We are a neighborhood where a couple of moms organize an annual Halloween parade of young neighborhood children. Yes — young children in what I read is an aging, decaying neighborhood. We are a neighborhood where a group of mostly young professionals gathers in St. Leo's Church Hall to make sandwiches twice a week for a homeless shelter with the assistance of restaurant owners who also live in the neighborhood. We are a neighborhood with a school, the Rev. Oreste Pandola Learning Center, that is filled most nights with people taking Italian language and cooking classes. Many of the teachers live or were raised in Little Italy. We are a neighborhood where thousands of people from all over Maryland visit weekly during the summer to watch Italian themed movies on a wall outside. And thousands of people attend not one but two Italian-themed festivals during the summer. And don't forget the church's ravioli dinners with ravioli made by hand by neighborhood people, sometimes three generations rolling the dough together!

Little Italy is often described as a close-knit, ethnic enclave, usually by writers and reporters whose experience in Little Italy has been the walk from their car to a restaurant. I invite them and others to join me at a corner bench in the afternoon. In between the gossip, general conversation and arguing over who is the better bocce roller, you will find welcoming nods and hellos to neighbors and visitors alike. Close-knit is a wonderful term, but "welcoming" better describes Little Italy. Just ask some of the young couples and others who have bought homes and have moved to the neighborhood. Their involvement in the community has been thoroughly welcomed.

Little Italy is as perfect as every single neighborhood in all of Baltimore — that is, we're imperfect. But we get press because we are, arguably, one of the best known neighborhoods. We need and welcome those who wish to invest in Little Italy. We have houses waiting for families to purchase. We have vacant restaurants that need new owners and to be reopened as additional destination spots for good Italian food, and we need more business investment.

Now, I admitted that Little Italy is imperfect, but consider this: a community bank, hair stylist, shops for Italian cold cuts, restaurants, a wine bar, pastry and coffee shops, a church, houses and apartments, a learning center, bocce court, and benches to sit on and chat with neighbors and friends. All within a five minute walk. Prospective businesses and homeowners include some or all of these things when describing what they are looking for in making an investment. Well, here you go: Invest in my neighborhood, you are welcome.

Ray Alcaraz is board president for the Promotion Center for Little Italy-Baltimore. His email is ray_alcaraz@hotmail.com.

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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