Many metropolitan areas boast pocket communities based around the ethnicity of residents, and the city of Springfield is no exception.
In the South End of the city, you’ll find a rich and vibrant community of Italian Americans, born from a wave of Italian immigrants that settled in Springfield and made the neighborhood their home.
As Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan found out, while Springfield’s “Little Italy” may have gotten “littler” since being settled in the 1860s, the neighborhood’s sense of community and tradition is just as strong as ever.
In a digital exclusive, learn about Salerno, Italy – the original home of many of the Italian immigrants that settled in the South End.
Read the full transcription:
Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Many metropolitan areas boast pocket communities based around the ethnicity of its residents, and the city of Springfield is no exception.
This area right here, better known as the South End of the city, has a rich and proud heritage born from the Italian immigrants who made it their home.
But as Connecting Point’s Brian Sullivan shows us, while the Little Italy section of the city has certainly gotten a little bit “littler” over the past few decades, the sense of community and tradition here is just as strong as ever.
Brian Sullivan, Connecting Point: It’s safe to say that when the good people of Springfield traveled to the South End of town back in 1946, there was no MGM Casino or CVS or even a Route 91, for that matter. There are plenty of other storefronts that wouldn’t have been found down this way back then either.
But there is one that never left. And while La Fiorentina Pastry Shop may not have always been located right here at the corner of Main and Winthrop, this has always been their neighborhood.
Mauro Daniele, La Fiorentina Pastry Shop: We are kind of a meeting place for the Italian American community in the greater Springfield area. Any given morning you’ll find, you know, tables of old Italian guys, young Italian guys, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, mechanics, all sitting at a table, all just shooting the breeze.
And, you know, just — just enjoying a cup of espresso. Yeah.
Brian Sullivan: At the front of the house, there are display cases loaded with countless reasons as to why home exercise equipment is still a booming business. These exquisite confectionary creations are made daily back here, where the aroma of almonds and sweetness fill the air like something out of a dream.
For anyone who’s never seen the inner workings of a traditional bakery, it’s really quite fascinating to witness the assembly line atmosphere, in particular with their cakes, which have played a major role in their ability to have lifelong customers.
Mauro Daniele: We are not only a multigenerational business in terms of ownership, but also in terms of clientele.
So, my grandfather, you know, the brides I’m working with and the couples I’m working with today, my grandparents made cakes for their grandparents or great grandparents, and then my parents made their wedding cake for their parents.
We want to see you for your first anniversary cake, and then, you know, your kid’s baptism cake, and the first birthday.
Brian Sullivan: And if La Fiorentina is where people go for their treats, next door at Mom and Rico Daniele’s Specialty Market is where folks in the neighborhood can go for, well, just about everything else.
Rico Daniele, Mom and Rico’s Market: We have a little bit of everything. We saw bocce balls, we sell buffet, we sell grinders and sandwiches. We have — we sell a little bit of everything: macaroni, pasta, toilet paper, wedding soup, divorce soup, chicken tortellini soup, pasta e fagioli.
We have raviolis and tortellinis, a little bit of everything.
Brian Sullivan: When we dropped by, Rico was working with his sisters, Gina and Rosemary, putting together quite possibly the most delicious prosciutto sauce I’ve ever tasted.
But looking around the store, it’s nearly impossible not to notice the importance that the game of bocce plays in his life. He even wrote a book on it. In fact, he likes it so much he named a sandwich for it: the Bocce Bella grinder.
And when he’s not here running the shop, chances are Rico can be found at one of the local bocce courts. Thank you.
They say the first known documentation of bocce was in 5200 B.C., with an Egyptian tomb painting that depicted two boys playing. Whatever the story may be, for the guys we met at the Dante Club in West Springfield, it’s a game they’ve been playing for as long as they can remember.
Nicola Albano, Sorrento Pizza: I’ve been playing bocce for since I was two years old. That’s my toy. A guy who can’t afford to buy any toy way back in Italy. So, I come — I used to play in Italy, I come to Springfield, I play bocce with my toy, like little kids.
To play bocce, it’s one of the cheapest balls to buy –bocce. Bocce set, it only costs $100 – $150, and you good for life. It’s not like you play golf or play hockey or play football — you need a lot of money. With bocce, it’s very cheap sport to do it. It’s very fun for everybody!
Brian Sullivan: And it’s a tradition that the younger generation seems to be missing out on. But Rico Daniele is doing all he can to change that.
Rico Daniele: What I — what I like to do, because we don’t do it anymore, I like to get the kids to play with their parents and grandparents. And bocce is a special game for any age, any size, any shape. You could be in a wheelchair and play bocce.
It’s a beautiful game. It brings people together. We need more of that today. Today, we don’t eat around a kitchen table with that family. We’ve got to do things with that family, today and where there’s less bullying or less fighting and bring people together.
Brian Sullivan: Whether it’s meeting up for a game of bocce with some friendly trash talking or getting together for a cup of espresso, sense of community is still strong here.
But will the South End ever be the old neighborhood that it used to be back in the day? Probably not.
But maybe that’s not necessarily such a bad thing.
Mauro Daniele: In terms of, you know, Italians coming back to the South End, I don’t really see it happening.
You know, they’ve moved out to East Longmeadow, Longmeadow, Agawam. And, you know, they they’re well established there. They made a little bit of money. They worked hard, made some money, moved out to the suburbs. And I guess that, in a way, is the real American Dream, right?
But as long as we can, we’re going to be here. And we still plan on being a meeting place and community landmark as long as people still want to keep coming.