Thursday, May 7, 2020

Gem Spa will not reopen

[Photo by Steven]

After a turbulent 12 months (and weeks of rumors), Gem Spa has officially announced that it will not reopen on the corner of Second Avenue and St. Mark's Place.

Parul Patel, who has been running the store that her father Ray has owned since 1986, made a gallant effort in recent months to save the iconic corner shop that dates to the 1930s. However, whatever financial progress she was able to make was not enough to overcome a global pandemic.

Gem Spa released this statement this afternoon:

"It is with a heavy heart that we announce Gem Spa has poured it’s last legendary egg cream and closed its doors forever.

This has been an extremely difficult decision, and one we are heartbroken to make. Forced to close the store due to New York City & State Covid restrictions implemented six weeks ago in the interest of safety to our customers and staff, we had hoped to reopen once things stabilized. Prior to the crisis, it had become increasingly apparent that the evolving character of the area was no longer able to sustain a corner creation like ours.

Coronavirus concerns closed our city, cratered businesses, and ultimately sealed the fate of our (close to) 100-year-old shop.

After careful review and assessment of our options, we have made the heartbreaking but necessary decision to close permanently.

We have enjoyed the most incredible love, support, loyalty and friendship from our neighbors, city, and visitors from around the world. We are, and always will be, eternally grateful to the historical artists, musicians, designers and dedicated denizen’s who saw us as much more than a beloved bodega but an iconic East Village institution.

Although our physical doors are closing, we will live on through our website where we will be highlighting more of our rich history and the iconic figures that have made us who we are. We will also continue to sell Gem Spa branded merchandise as well as art, books and photographs inspired by our store.

The Patel family would like to thank everyone for all the beautiful memories and for the opportunity to serve you. We hope that all of you are staying safe and in good health. Lots of love from all of us to all of you."

The combination of troubles started late last spring, when Gem Spa lost their license to sell cigarettes and tobacco products — a large source of revenue. (A now-former employee reportedly sold cigarettes to an undercover minor.) In addition, their lottery license was suspended last spring for an outstanding debt.

Gem Spa also stopped selling newspapers and magazines, a dwindling revenue source and a marked shift in consumer behavior.

Patel, who launched an Instagram account that emphasized the corner shop's long East Village history and well-liked egg creams, also saw success with the introduction of branded Gem Spa streetwear.

Supporters came together last September for a successful cash mob, which also helped raise awareness of the shop and the ongoing plight of the mom-and-pop business surviving in today's corporatized NYC.

In early March, Patel began to put in a small lunch counter with retro stools as a way to expand Gem Spa's coffee and tea service. However, before the counter could be utilized, Gem Spa closed amid the COVID-19 crisis — this after introducing a delivery service for egg creams.

[Photo from April 2019 by Stacie Joy]

At the time of the closure, Gem Spa was trying to raise $35,000:

" make up for the $12,000 we were short for rent that was due March 15 and another $20,500 (combination of rent, taxes, monthly payment plan from a recent lawsuit settlement) due in 3 weeks (April 15th). And the other $2500 is needed for taxes. The lawsuit that we recently settled basically stipulates that the landlord can evict us if we are late twice on rent. We are already late for last week’s rent and if we are late one more time, we will be legally evicted when the moratorium is lifted."

Previously on EV Grieve:
• At the Gem Spa Cash Mob (Sept. 16)

• Get your Gem Spa t-shirts or photos of Madonna — at Gem Spa! (Aug. 16)

• Will you buy a Gem Spa T-shirt? (June 28)

• "Gem Spa is open!" (June 18)

• What is happening at Gem Spa? (June 11)

• A visit to Gem Spa (May 10)


Anonymous said...

Without a citywide rent freeze, we will all have to get used to seeing this article repeated with different iconic NYC businesses in the headline. It's just heartbreaking. Now playing: Arthur Russell - Make 1, 2 (Gem Spa Dub)

Anonymous said...

Walked by yesterday and saw the neon sign still on, made me somewhat hopeful. I still think that St. Marks is not dead. No one can take away the history living on this sidewalk.

Anonymous said...

Very sad for the East Village. I will miss Gem Spa and their egg creams.

Anonymous said...

Oh nooooo!!! This will 10000% become another noodle shop

Anonymous said...

Any word on the other Egg Cream hot spot...Ray's Candy Store. Is everything okay on Avenue A?

Unknown said...

It is also with a heavy heart that I am reading that you have closed. I have many great memories of Gem Spa over the course of my life. I am so saddened to hear this and I will follow your website, please keep the website going. Good luck to all of you and thanks for many memories to you, your family and those before you. Gid bless you all♥️♥️♥️

Mary Ellen Doyle said...

As a direct descendant of the creator of the Egg Cream, I weep for my lost history. Shalom Alecheim.

Anonymous said...

This is just a sign of the times I used to go to Gem Spa all the time to look for magazines and newspapers of which they had an able supply of but gradually printed pages on paper has become obsolete with the invent of Tablets and ipads where people just download the published document they are looking for. The closing of Gem Spa is sad but not surprising.

Anonymous said...

I’m speechless- and crying. There is nothing left of the East Village heritage. I understand the reasons and the changes that have destroyed the unique character of the EV. I am sad for us, but even more so for the Patel family who have put their hearts and souls into trying no to save this iconic business.

Cait said...

This is so sad

Anonymous said...

RIP, it will glow on the corner in my memory forever!

@6:15 pm, ray's is open, got a terrific egg cream there, made by the lovely stella, just the other day!

Scooby said...

One of a kind, iconic place with a century of history gone... Sad. I'm glad it was a part of my life for the time it was here. That's the gift for me. I could have never known this place, its people and felt its vibe.

Another member of The Tribe gone...

Dinky said...

Years ago my mother, a writer, visiting NYC from Oakland, was working on her old portable typewriter when her carbon paper gave out. She used the same piece of carbon over and over again until the copy was nearly invisible. She insisted I try to find new carbon paper for her; it was late on a Sunday night, the only store open in the neighborhood was Gem Spa. Reluctantly I dragged myself out in the unlikely hope they would have carbon paper - and they did! We used to find everything under the sun in that place. Years later my niece loved Voltar (is that right?). Dinky

Anonymous said...

Absolutely gutted. All of my respect to the Patel family for continuing to run Gem Spa with utmost admiration for it's rich history for as long as they were able.

Another MAJOR nail in the coffin for the city and for our beloved culture. How on earth they can force everyone to close and not enact some sort of safety net for our beloved institutions is beyond me...


Ruki444 said...

The overall effect of Capitalism and gentrification is like watching love friends or relatives die from cancer.

Anonymous said...

I've lived in the neighborhood for the last 20 years and it seems my entire time here has been witness to beloved places closing. Always mourning another loss, not really welcoming anything new. With all the recent closures in the last few weeks, I'm afraid many businesses will never return. I grieve for this neighborhood and the city.

Anonymous said...

Farewell, Gem Spa, you will be very very much missed and never forgotten. The East Village won't be the same without you. I wish you all the best in the future.

As to their closure, yes, times have changed - but IMO that's not what did in Gem Spa. IF not for the cigarette/lotto license issue, they'd still be there. And IF not for a landlord (who has definitely been part of the problem, and not the solution) who wants them out, they'd still be there. I now hope that space will be vacant for eons.

bruce said...

UGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!! She gave it her all, but the deck was heavily stacked against her. Perhaps Jeremiah can rally some city officials and activists into action and pressure the landlord as was done for Neir's Tavern? Grieve indeed.

Anonymous said...

The term rent freeze relates to the annual raise for rent stabilized apartments, and has nothing to do with commercial or regular residential rents.
Also, today was announced that you can use your deposits to make up for the rent you didn't pay at the last couple of months.

Anonymous said...

I thought Cuomo just said in his briefing today or yesterday that no small business would be forced to close for rent-related reasons in the current situation. Did I misunderstand?

Chris Flash said...

Ray Patel was a fan of The SHADOW and we never knew it until one day in 1989-1990, when we came by to see about GEM SPA selling The SHADOW on consignment. He asked "What took you so long?" He told us that everyone had been looking for The SHADOW at GEM SPA for months.

It was a natural fit. GEM SPA was THE 24 hour place for newspapers and magazines, local and national, for ever. We sold tons of SHADOWs there, with GEM SPA supporting us in the face of kops threatening them (at the time, we weren't exactly sympathetic to the police, who were being mis-used by the city to attack the homeless, squatters, street peddlers and the poor in order to pave the way for the forces of gentrification on the Lower East Side).

I met Ray's daughter Parul last October - I was immediately impressed by her hard-as-nails Noo Yawka attitude and her keeping her dad's business alive in the face of so many obstacles she told me had been thrown at her by the city that seemingly WANTED her to fail (anything that smells like the real New York City has no place in the "New New York City"). She took no shit from the magazine and newspaper distributor - when they presented her with a false bill, she had them remove their publications. GEM SPA was not the same without them, but I respected her decision. (She still accepted a stack of the latest issue of The SHADOW that day!)

Now Parul has had to make the toughest decision of all, but after weighing her options and what she would face in the months to come, she had no choice other than to throw in the towel. It could be said that the decision was made for her. What would have been the point to dip into her family's savings only to have the landlord exercise his option to terminate their lease anyway?

One would think that a landlord would consider a long-term tenant like GEM SPA to be golden and would attempt to work something out that would enable them to stay at a sustainable rent, but why should a landlord even bother to rent to anyone while they are permitted to write off empty spaces that THEY have caused to become empty as "loss of income" on their taxes? WHY does the city REWARD landlords for causing businesses to fail and for charging rents that cannot be managed, leading to thousands of EMPTY storefronts throughout the city?

New York City is DYING, one store at a time, one venue at a time, one building at a time, and the city doesn't give a flying SHIT about it. There will be thousands of MORE empty stores in the months to come and a lot LESS of what has made New York a unique place, like GEM SPA.

[Bless you Parul, for honoring your father and his legacy and for your brave effort to keep GEM SPA alive for as long as you did]

Chris Flash

Brian said...

My condolences to Parul Patel and family. New York small independent retail is an endangered business form in NYC. You did everything to try to continue a great tradition. The cards were stacked against you. Not even the power of Zoltar could change this. I used to buy the newspaper, magazines and Diet Coke regularly from you when I worked close by. It was a pleasant neighborhood experience.

Anonymous said...

what is going on in this world !

Anonymous said...

It was inevitable. Gem Spa,was actually called Gems Spa back in the day before the sign was changed and inexplicably lost the "s". In the 60's you would go in here and get a perfect NY egg cream. FYI...this is how you make an egg cream..and no, there are no eggs involved.
Take a large glass like a beer mug (12-16 ozs).
1/6 Milk (real whole milk)
1/6 U-Bets Chocolate syrup - do not use a substitute...only U-Bets
2/3 Seltzer, plain old seltzer, not club soda... only plain seltzer. As you pour the seltzer in let it splash over a tablespoon and stir with vigor to make a nice foam.
Voila! You have made your first authentic NY Egg Cream. Adjust the ingredients slightly to your own taste.
So you don't have to give up that great egg cream you crave.

At one time you went here for your favorite magazines as well, from Pop Rock to Porn, from Art to Astronomy. Not to mention all the other candy and small store items that filled the shelves. One might even have called this a specialty store.

It is sad to see this EV institution disappear. But that is what happens when you sell tobacco to underage kids and lose your tobacco and lottery license which brought in a huge part of the store's income. Whether it was the employees or the owners who allowed this to happen is unknown, but the owners must take responsibility for being irresponsible which killed the store. Maybe someone will pick it up and reopen it....upscale it a bit in a year or two when the Covid crisis is over and landlords are tired of having empty store fronts that produce zero revenue.

Giovanni said...

This is so sad. It was hard to watch the decline of this neighborhood institution over the past few years. When Zoltar left it never felt the same. Gem Spa became a shell of its former self, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Back when we still read magazines, Gem Spa was always a regular part of the weekly routine, and now it’s not, because we get our information for free from apps and websites just like this.

You know what else is closing? Colleges, universities, major retailers, tens of thousands of small businesses, especially nail salons and barber shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, nightclubs, several major airlines, cruise ship companies, and hotel chains. Will the Moxy ever be the same? Perhaps worst of all, city and state agencies will be gutted, along with social services, schools. food assistance programs, healthcare coverage, hospitals. The unemployment rate just hit 14.7%, which means its really 35%. The only good news would be if the city took those billions of dollars slated for the destruction of East River Park and put it to better use.

In the good old days we would be headed to Gem Spa to pick up a paper or magazine to read about all of this news. At least we still have EV Grieve, which could not have a more appropriate name in a time like this.

noble neolani said...

So sorry to hear this.

So many small businesses in NYC were already on life support now Covid19 will "pull the plug" on them one at a time. Landlords can now pursue their dreams of getting chain businesses to complete the city's utter ruin.

Unknown said...

Parul, and Patel family - thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.

Lola Sáenz said...

Gem Spa will forever be missed! :(

Anonymous said...

@8:49am: You don't seem to realize an employee sold tobacco to someone who was undercover as part of a STING. You think that was "irresponsible"? Get real! I wonder how good YOU would be at spotting a fake ID if you were the one standing behind the counter? (And having seem some fake ID's, I'm sure the authorities can produce picture-perfect fakes).

It's a "gotcha" game aimed at destroying small businesses, so I guess that now the government can chalk up one more "win" for itself in the "destroy-a-small-business" column.

What a bitter ending to such an iconic business.

Chris Flash said...


It was called GEM SPAS originally, not "Gems Spa" -- that proves you are not a native.

And, as the previous poster just pointed out, they were SET UP by an undercover operation -- you make it sound like it was GEM SPA policy to sell to minors and therefore deserved what they got.

There have been other cases in which an undercover kop operative grabs a beer in a small deli or bodega with a line of customers, throws a dollar bill on the counter and runs out while another customer is being rung up. Moments later, in come the uniformed kops, issuing big fines and/or killing the store's beer license.

You obviously don't know what you are talking about - people like YOU are part of the problem on the Lower East Side. Please GET LOST as soon as possible!

Pat said...

GEMS SPA. Sad no matter how it's spelled.

sophocles said...

I guess I am not a native New Yorker either. I thought it was originally called "Gem's Pa."

Giovanni said...

I believe that Gem Spas was the location operated by a dyslexic inventor of the Geg Crema, the precursor to the modern Egg Cream.

If only Gem Spa had changed their name to Germ Spa and sold coronavirus themed merchandise, this might have never happened.

In more positive news, Ivanka’s personal assistant has tested positive for coronavirus, which means that Boy King Jared Kushner may soon realize that greed is not his only sickness.

Anonymous said...

However awful you think the loss of Gem Spa is, it’s more awful than that