For more than 42 years, Raul Santiago has spent nearly every day on Avenue B, working behind the counter for up to 14 hours a day at his namesake Candy Store. A neighborhood fixture to say the least, Santiago and his partner Petra Olivieri are saying goodbye at the end of the month, closing up shop on February 28th, when they’ll give away any candy that hasn’t yet been sold.
Santiago is 75, and though his rent has risen since he first opened the present location of his store in 1981, his family says the landlord (and the gentrification of Alphabet City) wasn’t a factor in the decision to close down. Raul just wants to retire. As his daughter Diana told Gothamist, “It’s bittersweet. The store has been part of our family for my entire life, and it’s hard to see it go, but I’m happy for my dad. He’s earned a rest.”
The shop’s inventory has seen better days for sure, but that’s to be expected, as Santiago hasn’t replenished his stock since he decided to shut down. Regulars still frequent Raul’s, if not for sweets then for the coffee and the company. One long-time customer was wistful this past Saturday afternoon. “Where am I going to stop in and get warm now?”
Don’t wait until free candy day on the 28th to visit Raul, though. There are plenty of treats still in the shop’s big front case—what better old-school Valentine’s gift than a brown paper bag stuffed with goodies?—and it also offers an increasingly rare opportunity to see the city as it once was, the soul behind a charming, faded storefront. It’s difficult to overstate how much of the retail landscape in many areas used to look and feel like Raul Candy Store, these family-run, fantastically cluttered stores and restaurants that really served their communities, as commerce centers, sure, but also as safe spaces, and a place to get to know your neighbors. Many of them are already gone, and you have two weeks left to say thank you and goodbye to one more.
Raul Candy Store is located at 208 Avenue B between 13th and 12th Streets, and will be open through February 28th.