This week, a rumor spread that Gem Spa would be closing up shop for good, and today that rumor was sadly confirmed. The corner store has been a fixture at St. Marks Place and Second Avenue for around 100 years, but in 2019 had been struggling to pay the rent, which had gone up. They'd also lost their license to sell cigarettes and lottery tickets, which was another devastating blow.
Parul Patel, the daughter of owner Ray Patel, had been running the store and made some pushes through Instagram and a merch drop last year — these efforts garnered some attention, along with a Save Gem Spa rally held by Jeremiah Moss. And by September of 2019, Patel insisted they were fine, and told Gothamist, “the worst is behind us. We’re not closing, we’re not thinking about closing.” But then — as so many stories will begin when we reflect on this time — the pandemic hit.
In a text yesterday, Patel told Gothamist that Gem Spa had been closed due to COVID-19 for the last seven weeks, and promised to share more on the future of the business soon. Today, she sent out the following statement:
It is with a heavy heart that we announce Gem Spa has poured its 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 statement was also shared online, with a set of old photos of Gem Spa.
Last year, Patel spoke to us about the legendary shop that had been put in her hands when her father fell ill. “It really was an oasis in the middle of this drug-infested neighborhood,” she said of their earlier days running the shop — Patel's father bought the store in 1985 or 1986, she says, but it had a long history before that, opening in the 1920s, and renamed GEMS Spa in the 1950s before losing the "S." It has been a fixture in the neighborhood for a century, and one of its most recognizable landmarks.
Writer Jesse Jarnow looked back at some of that history last year: "It’s where Robert Mapplethorpe bought Patti Smith an egg cream on the day they met. It’s on the back cover of the New York Dolls’ 1973 debut (and where, according to lore, Johnny Thunders and others went for post-heroin sugar fixes between sets at CBGB). Before that, it was where Abbie Hoffman gathered Yippies to rain money on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s where Allen Ginsberg, Ted Berrigan, and other neighborhood poets went to pick up the Sunday New York Times on Saturday nights (and which was inevitably commemorated in their poems)."
This story is developing and we will update if more information becomes available.