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Gem Spa ‘has poured its last egg cream’

Updated May 7, 10 p.m.: Gem Spa is another victim of the pandemic.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, the historic East Village store — famed for its egg creams and, formerly, its newsstand — was hanging on by a thread.

To raise funds, it was selling a line of Gem Spa-wear, including knit caps and T-shirts, plus photos by neighbor Godlis of Madonna filming a scene from “Desperately Seeking Susan” in front of the place.

On Thursday evening around 9 p.m., the owners issued a statement on Twitter and Instagram saying the store has “closed its doors forever”:

“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…

“We were forced to close the store due to New York City and State Covid restrictions 6 weeks ago in the interest of the safety of our customers and staff hoping to reopen when things stabilize. Prior to this crisis, it had become increasingly apparent that the evolving character of the area was no longer available 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 doors are closing, we will live on through our website (https://gemspanyc.com) 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 & photos inspired by our store…

“There are so many people, organizations and members of the media that we would like to thank but we will do so in a separate post to acknowledge the heartfelt contributions of all of these people.

“The Patel family would like to thank you our extended family 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.”

Gem Spa’s Instagram page features photos of famous people and celebrities with connections to the store, from Yippie activist Abbie Hoffman — who organized his “raid” on the New York Stock Exchange there — to Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith, who enjoyed its egg creams, to Courtney Love, who filmed a movie scene there.

The iconic store, at Second Ave. and St. Mark’s Place, has been named Gem Spa since the 1950s and, before that, had operated under a different name since the 1920s. The “gem” in Gem Spa was an acronym of the former owners’ wives’ names.

It reportedly may have been where egg creams first got their start in America.

Eagle-eyed photographer Jefferson Siegel had recently seen a tweet that the store had closed permanently. Early Thursday afternoon, The Village Sun reached out and confirmed the sad news.

In a phone interview around 2:15 p.m., Parul Patel, whose father is Gem Spa’s owner, told The Village Sun that they would be putting out a statement very soon.

“Yeah, well, we were in a very difficult situation and we will be issuing a statement shortly,” she said. “It was awful before this…and now… .”

In a second phone call a bit later, she said the statement would be posted in the evening…and it was.

3 Comments

  1. Maris Ramts Maris Ramts May 7, 2020

    When it was announced that gem spa was closing in the fall we went for a final egg cream. At that time we gave $20 each for T-shirts which never came and that’s an uncool ending for what was always a favorite place throughout my life. I am sad for them but that just wasn’t right.

  2. Kathleen McGee Treat Kathleen McGee Treat May 7, 2020

    Get over it.
    Every New Yorker will miss Gem Spa…a lot.
    KT

  3. Chris Flash Chris Flash May 8, 2020

    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

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