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Thoughts From the Crowd at San Gennaro

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From September 14 to 24, vendors are packed into the streets of Little Italy for the annual Feast of San Gennaro. The festival has been a city tradition for the past 91 years. But something is a little different this year.

“It’s way too New York now,” said Rebecca, a young mom from Queens who has been coming to the fair for about 20 years. “Like, ‘Italian’ fried chicken? Come on.” She usually takes her daughter and nieces for the rides and games, but her favorite part is always the Italian food, which there seems to be less of this year.

“I thought we were gonna come here and mangia!” said her older sister, Christina. “Oh well.”

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Although there are still rows of sausage-and-pepper stands, piles of lasagna and meatballs on paper plates, and glass pastry cases filled with cannoli, there have definitely been some additions. The Franki Valli music playing in front of the famous Ferrara bakery is drowned out by Top 40 hits, soca music, summery reggaeton and even throwback Nicki Minaj freestyles from her first mixtapes. If you don’t want Italian food, other vendors sell “Italian” hot dogs, macaroons, rice and beans (with or without marinara) and “mozzarepas.”

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But the festival is still about heritage, tradition and fun, explained Frank Alleva with a mouth full of sausage. He grew up on Grand Street and went to the San Gennaro fair every year as a kid. Now, 61 years later, he runs the Alleva Dairy table. Although he still loves the atmosphere, he misses the old Italy.

“The neighborhood has been gentrified, so its not just all the old-timers here anymore,” he said.

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While people lined up for cannoli, gelato, and Italian ices, one dessert stop was suspiciously empty —the panettone, otherwise known as fruit cake. The elderly vendor watched the crowd from his chair. I asked how long he had been coming here.

“Long enough,” he said with a tired scowl.

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