Little Italy: Through the Eyes of the Community – Kindness and Culture

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Daniel Thompson III and his dog, Bob, resting on Grace University’s campus after a long summertime walk around and game of fetch-the-stick.

“I’ve lived in my current home in Little Italy for the past almost two years,” said Daniel Thompson III. “But I’ve lived in this area pretty much since I moved here from Michigan.”

After Thompson graduated with a degree in Photojournalism from Central Michigan University, he packed his bags and moved to Nebraska to work for his friend’s studio, Make Believe Studios. At first he found an apartment in the central part of Omaha, but it was noisy and didn’t have much culture attached to it.

It didn’t take long before he jumped at the opportunity to move to Little Italy with close friends, which a few have become business partners over the years. In 2011 Thompson moved into the area and hasn’t left since.

“Before the place I’m at now, I lived up the street close to Grace University’s quiet campus with some creative friends who were mainly into music and art,” said Thompson. “And before that house on Pine Street, I lived a few blocks in a row house on Hickory Street.”

Thompson said there’s something about the area that’s kept him here as opposed to other eclectic areas like Dundee or Benson. Part of the reason he’s enjoyed the neighborhood is living so close to his business. Thompson is the Creative Director and co-owner of Make Believe New Media (MBNM). He recently moved the business, but from early 2014 to December of 2016, the MBNM office—what he referred to as his second home—was on historic 10th Street.

“Living within a few minutes from and being able to walk to your work is something everyone probably would appreciate,” said Thompson.

Thompson also enjoyed the flexibility of being able to run home on lunch breaks and spend some quality time outside running around with his dog, Bob. There are many options of taking his dog on a walk whether through Dahlman Park, through Grace University’s campus, down to ConAgra Park or the Old Market.

“Bob loves running through this one open field at the campus. During the summer when the weather is perfect, it’s just what he needs,” said Thompson. “Border Collies need tons of exercise and with Dahlman and the campus so close it helps keep him busy whether he’s chasing squirrels or rabbits.”

Thompson joked that it’s not the dog that he’s walking but the dog that forces Dan to get out and enjoy the scenery.

“The views we have at the place we’re at now are great. If we walk up the street at the top of the hill we’re able to get a perfect view of downtown, the Old Market, and the ConAgra Park water fountain when it’s lit up at night,” said Thompson.

He said during the summer he’s even able to hear the Stir Cove concerts across the river.

“If it’s quiet enough you can hear some of the animals at the zoo early in the morning, too,” said Thompson.

The houses and older apartments down here aren’t for everyone. If you’re looking for stainless steel appliances, brand new flooring and Ikea cabinets look elsewhere, and expect to pay a ton. They’re old, he said, 100 plus years old.

“The place I’m at now is 102 years old,” said Thompson. “From what I’ve heard from the landlord and neighbors who’ve lived here for decades, these houses we live in lined up down the street used to have a tunnel connecting all the way down the street. They used it for bootlegging liquor beneath the streets during prohibition.”

In the basement there is a boarded up part of the wall covering that tunnel entrance. The history attached to the houses, the local shops like Orsi’s Italian Bakery & Pizzeria and more are a big reason he likes the area. Shop owners and neighbors have become friends—whether hosting neighbor-night bonfires, catching up with the neighborhood “grandma” down the street. The area is only getting better as time goes on. New families and businesses are settling in and it’s nice to see the progress, he shared.

“The places here have got so much character and memories attached to them,” said Thompson. “From neighbors who have given me dog food when I first got Bob as a puppy, or the bakery down the street that gives me an occasional free loaf of bread, I’ve never seen as much kindness anywhere in Omaha as much as I have down here.”

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