Gather your cash monies my egg cream-loving friends, a local group is planning an emergency maneuver to save an ailing East Village institution: Gem Spa, the storied bodega at the corner of St. Marks and Second Avenue.
Gem Spa, or some version of it, has lived in this same location for over 80 years, but lately the corner store has run into formidable problems: It lost its tobacco and lottery ticket license after an employee was caught selling cigarettes to minors, and its owner (Ray Patel) reportedly accrued somewhere around $100,000 in debt trying to keep the business afloat in a gentrifying neighborhood. Patel's daughter, Parul Patel, recently took the wheel, rebranding with new egg cream flavors and an enhanced Instagram presence. Still, they've scaled back their hours — Gem Spa now closes at midnight, whereas in its punk rock heyday, it would sell you a milk soda any time, day or night — have stopped carrying print magazines, and their iconic animatronic fortune teller (Zoltar, $2 per reading) has gone missing from the sidewalk. All the changes, combined with rising rents, have left Gem Spa loyalists worried for the the New York institution's future.
As such, #SaveNYC (a grassroots group advocating for small businesses) will convene a "cash mob" at Gem Spa on Saturday, September 14th, starting at noon. "Come prepared to spend some money — egg creams, pretzels, [their new] t-shirts, toothpaste! — and take your photo with a surprise work of guerrilla street art, as an acclaimed group of cultural activists and designers radically transform Gem Spa into a dystopian vision for the new St. Mark’s Place," the Facebook event says.
To that end, Jeremiah Moss — one of the event's co-hosts and the blogger who runs Vanishing New York — announced this morning that Tommy Noonan and Doug Cameron of the design firm DCX Accelerator had realized that "dystopian vision" by turning Gem Spa into a "Schitibank." Rumor has it that the real Citibank wants to take over Gem Spa's space, so at midnight, Moss watched the DCX team outfit the bodega with a satirical ad campaign featuring some of Gem Spa's more famous regulars from over the years, including (but not limited to) Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Allen Ginsberg, and the New York Dolls. Just a little reminder of the history a Citibank or a similar corporate entity might steamroll, if Gem Spa were run off its corner.
If you have the means, consider swinging by for some snacks or merch or whatever your shopping instincts demand. The official "cash mob" end time is listed as 2 p.m., but sundry purchases are probably welcome whenever.
Gem Spa is located at 131 2nd Ave, at the corner of St Marks Place.
Update: Citi has responded saying they would like to purchase some Gem Spa egg creams: