Little Italy: Through the Eyes of the Community – A Hidden Gem

“My last name is spelled P-I-E-R-C-E, just like the street down here,” said Christina Pierce.

little-italy-map

Map of Little Italy, Omaha

Pierce is a licensed massage therapist (LMT) in Little Italy—an Omaha, Nebraska neighborhood she’s spent nearly 30 years of her life growing up in. She’s lived through and witnessed three decades of change in the historic neighborhood and surrounding area.

Running her at-home practice, Omaha Ashiatsu & Bodywork, has its own special connection to the atmosphere of the neighborhood. Little Italy has its unique characteristics and sounds such as the train tracks just down the road.

“The sounds of the trains, even when I’m doing my massage I can hear them sometimes and it blends—to me, it’s like music to my ears—with the [background] music and everything else,” said Pierce. “Little Italy. It’s a hidden gem.”

Her parents moved into their home in Little Italy two years before she was born. At 17 years old, Pierce moved out from her childhood home for six years but didn’t move beyond east of 50th Street. She still stayed connected to the area. As you can imagine, a lot of change can happen in just five years, in ten, or thirty. With additions like Via Farina, the Blue Barn Theater, and soon-to-be Tenth Street Market it’s coming around to be a better area for business. Although the area is a few miles from the Old Market, it’s close enough to walk to and enjoy all the city has to offer but far enough away from the busy downtown hustle and bustle. The area is quiet, quaint, and it’s slowly changing.

“I’m just now seeing change,” said Pierce. “I suppose the biggest moment of change was when they tore down Caniglia’s where I worked as a busser when I was 16.”

The long-standing restaurant closed in 2005. The Caniglia family’s history in Omaha began in the 1910s running a bakery in Little Italy. From the bakery, it became Caniglia’s Pizzaria, then later became a steakhouse called the Original Caniglia’s, located near Seventh and Pierce Streets in 1946, according to the Omaha World-Herald.

Some of Pierce’s favorite memories through the years include sledding the snowy hills at Dahlman Park each winter, or visits to Olsen Bake Shop for doughnuts, eating great Italian food at Angie’s Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge (which closed in 2007), or celebrating special family events at Cascio’s Steakhouse—“a delicious Omaha landmark”. With its bright pink neon sign, Cascio’s Steakhouse is notably busy with packed parking lots every weekend. How does the steakhouse stay so busy?

“There’s no other reason. It’s tradition,” said Pierce.

Tradition has kept a lot of restaurants open and running in the neighborhood, but only few have remained. Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria on the corner of Sixth and Pacific Street is one example. It’s truly one of the last remaining landmarks, founded in 1919. Staple restaurants have come and go, but Pierce believes the current changes and additions to the area are bettering the neighborhood.

“I see younger creative people taking to this area, which is heartwarming for me personally because I think there is such a beauty and a rarity in this part of town that takes a certain type of person to really appreciate,” Pierce said.

Pierce believes when the Tenth Street Market, a year-round indoor farmer’s market, officially opens it’ll shift many things in the neighborhood. For those who live in the downtown Omaha area there aren’t many options for grocery stores nearby. If you build it they will come.

“I see Little Italy becoming a new hot spot. Not like Benson because all the attractions or restaurants here aren’t on one street,” said Pierce. “Maybe like a new Blackstone district. Within the next five years I see this being an even better neighborhood for young families, with good grocers nearby, activities in the arts, and a thriving food industry. It’s still close to the zoo and as far as schools, they’re building an elementary school near Grace University soon.”

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