Ray Alvarez, an East Village icon beloved for serving up ice cream, chili dogs, and fried Oreos from his eponymous "Candy Store" all hours of the day and night, turned 84 years old yesterday. And if you think he took the night off to relax at home, well... you'd be as wrong as an egg cream made with skim milk and Hersey's syrup.
As has become the custom, Alvarez celebrated the occasion with a party inside his tiny shop, complete with festive entertainment. This year, in honor of Alvarez's Persian heritage—he moved to New York City in 1964, and opened his store ten years later, but he still takes pride in his Iranian roots—the big surprise was belly dancer Amanda, who emerged from the back and performed up on counter.
The packed house (which, given the size of the space, means there was about twenty people total) feasted on lamb and hummus, heard readings from Ray's favorite book—Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam—and cheered as the man himself blew out his candle atop the Veniero's chocolate cake.
This is the eleventh year in a row that a crew of Ray groupies have organized a birthday party for the neighborhood fixture, local citizens who appreciate all that Alvarez has done over the decades for the community and want to show their gratitude. As Alvarez ages—and especially after his heart valve transplant surgery last year—these men and women show up ever more frequently at the store, to help out behind the counter or just hang out and chat with their friend.
Alvarez said last night that he couldn't believe how lucky he was to have such support from his community, but of course it's all of us who are the lucky ones.
Ray's Candy Store is located at 113 Avenue A, just north of East 7th Street right, and is open 24 hours a day. If you haven't been in a while you should go now, during the slow days of winter, and show your support.