For more than a century, Boschetto's Bakery, a tiny shop tucked away on Salem Street in Boston's North End, has entranced passersby with the aroma of freshly baked bread late into the night.
The bakery, founded by Italian immigrant Andrew Boschetto, will bake its last loaves — as well as cookies and pizzas — on July 6 and close because of unmanageably high rent, as a notice reads on the red- and green-lettered storefront at 158 Salem St.
Owners believe the shop's brick oven, which dates to 1895, is the last one of its kind in all of the North End. As the bakery's days of operation dwindle, locals are lamenting the disappeareance of a beloved neighborhood fixture.
"I'm going to miss that smell of fresh bread. There wasn't a night they weren't here," said Angela Aquilino, who was born and raised in the North End and is now in her 60s.
"It's so sad," said 75-year-old Louis Cavagnaro, a lifetime neighborhood resident. "I was here when there were cobblestone streets, and the bakery was here before me."
Co-owner Mhamed "Ahmed" Idroui, who has run the bakery since 2000, said the business simply couldn't keep up with increasing rent. He and his partner, Bartolomeo De Stefano, have decided not to renew their lease.
"We've cut salaries before, and some weeks Bart and I didn't pay ourselves," Idroui said. "But this time we can't do more.''
De Stefano, who immigrated from Italy in the late 1950s, began sweeping Boschetto's floors as a schoolboy. In a few years, he was baking, and at age 75, he still comes in to work at 6 p.m. every evening to begin preparing rolls and cookies until dawn breaks the next morning.
De Stefano's daughter, Rita, said owners believe the shop is 110 years old. "This bakery is my father's heart and soul; it is all he has known," she said.
Rita, 36, who helps at the store during the day while her father sleeps and prepares for the night shift, remembers helping him bake rolls late into the night as a girl, so little she had to stand atop a milk crate to reach the oven.
She added it is the locals that she will miss most. "I know their orders like the back of my hand. Some of them have been coming in here for over 50 years," she said.
One of those customers is 74-year-old Sam Garofalo. He said his mother sent him to the bakery every day after school to pick up two loaves of bread — one for dinner, and one for lunch the next day.
"I feel lousy. I'm really going to miss this place," he said. "I guess people just don't eat bread like they used to."
The Italian breads, Idroui says, are the shop's specialty. In the bakery's heyday, they baked more than 1,500 loaves a night.
North End resident Ruth Weber recalls that years ago, her daughter's soccer team was on the way home to a sleepover party when they peeked in Boschetto's window to watch the bakers work.
"They invited all 17 girls inside and gave them a tour of the kitchen, showing them all the machines and explaining how the bread was made each night," she said.
As locals Tuesday streamed in and out of the standing-room-only shop, a spare room with pink walls and a print of Da Vinci's "The Last Supper," they pointed out their favorite goodies in the glass display: dainty raspberry cookies, sesame biscuits, and lemon and fig squares among them.
Garofalo swears by the anise biscotti. "They're the best in the whole North End."
Although Boschetto's retail operations will shut down, Idroui said he will continue his wholesale business in partnership with nearby Parziale's Bakery on Prince Street.
"The bakers around here have always been friends," said Parziale manager Maria Siciliano. "If one bakery runs out of flour or yeast we always let them borrow. . . . It's sad to see another local business go down."
Idroui said the lease he was offered by property owners, who are based in Argentina and could not be reached for comment, was close to quadruple what he was previously paying.
"It is frustrating to see middle class owners being priced out," said City Councilor Salvatore LaMattina, who represents the North End, Charlestown, and East Boston.
North End realtor Philip Celeste, whose office is across the street from Boschetto's, said the increase in neighborhood property values is due in part to the 2008 housing crisis. Then, professionals who were locked out of the mortgage market began to lease North End apartments at higher rents than university students had previously been willing to pay.
"As rental incomes went up, property values went up in tandem, so the North End is somewhat in a boom," he said.
But as business prospers, some locals remain nostalgic. "There's hardly anything left of the original North End; it's sad to see another place gone," Cavagnaro said.
Smiling as he elbowed owner Idroui behind the counter, he asked, "Do you think he'll give me one last cookie?"