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Gem Spa (to Citibank?)

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NOT VANISHING YET

You may have heard that the great and beloved Gem Spa on St. Mark’s Place and Second Avenue is closing. Concerned about the fate of this landmark shop, I went in and spoke to Parul Patel, the owner’s daughter. She assured me there is no plan to close any time soon. However, the shop is struggling.

Recently, the rent went up. Then Gem lost their license to sell cigarettes and lottery tickets due to a former employee’s negligence. As Patel explained, those sales are critical. People who come to buy those items also buy newspapers and magazines, which are expensive for the shop to carry. 

At the same time, the landlord told Gem to clean up the historically and happily jumbled front exterior of the store–so away went the newspaper racks and Zoltar the fortune teller. Gone, too, are the magazines, at least for now. Once Gem gets their cigarette and lottery license back, the papers and magazines may return. But that is another four months away.

Patel urges locals, “Instead of buying your coffee at Starbucks, buy it here. It’s cheaper and tastes really good.” They’ve also started selling Juul and other vape products, along with candy bars, sodas, and lots of hats.

And egg creams, of course. Excellent egg creams that you can get with a pretzel rod. 

What might happen if Gem Spa vanishes? For one, like many East Villagers, I will be very unhappy. Back in 2013 I had a nightmare that Gem was put out of business by 7-Eleven. They survived and the 7-Eleven vanished instead.

Today, rumor has it that Citibank is interested in taking their space. As one customer said to that, “We don’t need another bank. We have enough banks.”


Ted Berrigan, 1972

The loss of Gem Spa would be a tragedy that the neighborhood would not tolerate. Any new business would be shunned. When The Stage Restaurant was forced to close across the avenue, a local used spray paint to call for a boycott of whatever business moved in. When one did, the neighborhood rejected it. For several months it sat empty of customers and eventually folded. The space remains empty.

Gem Spa has been here since 1957. Along with countless East Villagers over six decades, it’s been famously loved by punks and poets. The Patel family has run the place for 35 years. They have good relationships with their customers and three years left on their lease. Help keep them in business. Go to Gem Spa–get an egg cream, a candy bar, a couple of pretzel sticks.

Like Patel said, “Every dollar counts.”

Want to save what’s left of New York? Put your money where your mouth is. Don’t let the history of Gem Spa stop here.


New York Times, 1969


New York Dolls, 1973


photo by Roy Colmer, 1976


photo by Michael Sean Edwards, 1979


photo by Hank O’Neal, 1980s



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