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Oh, brother! Ray fundraiser cooks up nearly $50,000 for struggling Avenue A icon

BY THE VILLAGE SUN | A fundraiser for Ray of Ray’s Candy Store on Avenue A has already shattered its initial target. In less then two weeks, as of the afternoon on Sun., Nov. 20, the campaign had raised $47,533 — blowing away the initial goal of $19,740. More than 1,800 people have donated.

Major media, like Fox News, have run stories on the fundraiser, and Instagrammer Nicolas Heller (New York Nico) also shared it with his 1 million followers, helping drive the effort.

The GoFundMe remains open. The idea was to keep it going until his 90th birthday in January. Maybe, fittingly, it will end up raising $90,000.

Ray’s real name is Asghar Ghahraman. He grew up in Iran and is of Turkish descent, he has said. While in the Iranian Navy, he jumped ship in Florida, slept under a bridge and gradually made his way up to New York City.

Struggling to gain U.S. citizenship, Ray was at a loss, when a Puerto Rican co-worker shrugged that he should just use his name — Ray Alvarez — since all Puerto Ricans have dual citizenship. So, he did.

In 1974, he somehow managed to buy the classic Avenue A hole-in-the-wall store, with its well-worn linoleum countertop, and the rest is history — nearly six decades of it. After braving the tough times of the 1970s and ’80s, when cab drivers wouldn’t cross Avenue A, Ray has more recently gone on to become Internet famous, with the likes of Kim Kardashian, Kendell Jenner and other influencers stopping by to sample — and photograph for Instagram — his fried Oreos, shakes, Belgian fries, egg creams, soft-serve ice cream and more amid the store’s colorfully authentic decor. Before the coming of the influencers, the late East Village blogger Bob Arihood had helped raise Ray’s profile.

One of a parade of dancers on the countertop at Ray’s 87th birthday party in March 2020, just days before the pandemic officially hit. The party was actually held a few months late that year. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
The well-worn counter has seen some dazzling moves over the years. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)
A dancer shed a slinky glove at Ray’s birthday party in 2020. (Photo by Clayton Patterson)

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, Ray actually had eventually been granted amnesty under President Reagan — but, in a stroke of bad luck, the notification letter was sent to the wrong address. Decades later, it would all be sorted out and he would get his citizenship, allowing him to get Social Security payments — which he only poured right into improvements for the store, like new ice cream machines.

He’s had to rely on fundraisers a couple of times in the past to help meet his rent, but in recent years had seemed to turn the corner thanks to the explosion of online delivery apps, which have helped his business. He’s now able to sometimes have up to two employees working for him at night, allowing Ray to catch a bit of shuteye in the back of the store.

But he’s still pulling the overnight shift, placing his wholesale orders, on his feet for hours a day, lifting 5-gallon buckets of oil. The hardest-working man on Avenue A, he’s a machine.

You’ll know he’s working when you hear his familiar cries. To women: “I luuuuv you!” To men: “Hellooo, brother!”

When The Village Sun stopped by to say hi a couple of weeks before the GoFundMe was announced, Ray was being regaled by a boisterous group of local Gypsies he knows. After they left, he shared that all his costs have skyrocketed.

His business is really down right now, he said, plus everything is far more expensive, from potatoes for Belgian fries and large white paper cups for shakes to electricity, the latter which is through the roof.

But, on the bright side, he said he loves Joe Biden, as he loved Barack Obama before him. Longtime customers will remember Ray’s “Obama burgers” and even “Obama tube socks” that he had for sale.

Meanwhile, Ray looks great. As for his 90th birthday, will it have a ’90s grunge-rock theme? Stay tuned.

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