Little Italy gift shop matriarch Margaret Rossi dies at 72
This obituary is one in a series on people who died in the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more about the others here.
One afternoon in February 1970, Margaret Faiella sat in a lobby chair crocheting during her lunch break at her office job in downtown Manhattan. She noticed that a young man was looking to buy a pack of cigarettes from a vending machine. Then he approached her.
“Is anyone sitting there?” he asked, looking at the chair next to her.
“No,” she said.
“Who are you crocheting this for?”
They met for tuna sandwiches the next day in the cafeteria of his office building. They went on a date at a steakhouse in Brooklyn the following evening. He called her every night to serenade her over the phone with his guitar. Nine months later, she married Ernest Rossi, whose memory of their meeting has survived 51 years later.
Ms Rossi quickly quit her typing job to work for her husband’s family business, E. Rossi & Company, a Little Italy boutique that opened in 1910 and considered the oldest gift and gift shop in the neighborhood, a cluttered temple of Italian-American culture unlike any other in New York City.
At the shop, Ms. Rossi sold every type of Italian souvenir imaginable: figurines of saints, records of Neapolitan songs, mandolin sheet music, pasta cutters, espresso machines and small red horn amulets that are used to protect against evil. eye. During the Feast of San Gennaro festival, she operated a booth outside the store selling items like “Fuggedaboutit” baseball caps and t-shirts that read “Kiss Me I’m Italian”.
Ms Rossi died on April 22 in a Brooklyn hospital, where she lived in the Flatlands neighborhood. She was 72 years old. The cause was complications from Covid-19, said her husband, who is her only survivor.
Over time, and Little Italy began to shrink due to rising rents, E. Rossi & Company risked being part of a dying New York. In 2005, it was strength out of his long-standing Grand Street address after a big rent increase. Ms Rossi spent weeks packing the store’s items, some of which had sat collecting dust on shelves for decades, and the business moved next door.
When the pandemic gripped the city last year, it looked like the store could finally shut down for good. But the Rossis spent their savings to keep going.
“She hadn’t finished yet,” Rossi said. “I told him, ‘When you get out of the hospital, we can give up the business and move on.’ She said, ‘You know honey we’ll find a way to make it work. In her heart, she wanted to continue.
Msgr. Jamie Gigantiello, a friend and former pastor, said Ms Rossi had a higher purpose. “She saw what was getting lost in Little Italy,” he said, “and she wanted to keep the neighborhood alive.”
Margaret Faiella was born July 12, 1948 in Brooklyn and grew up in the Carroll Gardens section. Her father, Antonio Faiella, was a longshoreman. His mother, Maria (Malerba) Faiella, was a housewife.
Margaret graduated from Bishop McDonnell Memorial Girls’ High School in 1966 and went to work as a typist for the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company.
At his funeral, Mr. Rossi brought a letter containing a song he had written.
“You’ve been gone for so long and I can still hear you screaming my name,” he started. “The memories are all I have left until the day we meet again.”