Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Gem Spa: Not Closed

Someone started a blasphemous rumor on Facebook that the Gem Spa had shuttered. One Facebooker said it was "padlocked" last week. People flipped out, raining comments and tweets that cried, "WTF! thats crazy...the only question now is will it become a Chase or a Rite Aid" and "NO!" and "WHHHAAAATTTT?!?!?!?"

I went by to check this morning and am happy to report that the Gem Spa remains its usual self, open for business, overflowing with magazines and mixing up egg creams. People walk in and say, "We thought you were closed!" The Gem Spa men reply, laughing, "It was a joke! Someone made a bad joke on Facebook!"


egg cream, 2008

It's possible that someone stumbled upon this article from the Voice's blog Runnin' Scared and performed a panic posting: "Gem Spa Closes: Bye Bye, Miss American Egg Cream." The piece states, "Gem Spa is closed. The candy store which became a clearing house for the hip-yip-street freak festival in the East Village is now padlocked, its windows covered with newsprint and cardboard. The end came quickly and unexpectedly last week."

That article was reprinted from February 1972, when the Gem Spa did temporarily shutter.

Wrote the Voice, "It's too late in the day for the passing of Gem Spa to earn a place as a prophetic omen of the East Village-Lower East Side decline. Too many old scenes, like the Fillmore and the Electric Circus, have already folded." (The bemoaning has been going on for some time.)


New York Times, 1969

Disaster averted (this time), the 2012 Gem Spa false alarm is yet a good reminder to us all that now is the time to appreciate this East Village treasure.

Go for a magazine and an egg cream. (Check out this video of how it's done.) Grab a couple of those kosher raspberry "Jelly Rings" by the register. How about a Hav-A-Hank handkerchief or a nice, unbreakable plastic comb?


Ted Berrigan, 1972

Gem Spa may be the only newsstand in New York City with its own dedicated Wikipedia page.

Says Wikipedia, "From 1957 until at least 1969 the store was owned by Ruby Silverstein and Harold Shephard, who employed 11 staff to keep it open 24 hours a day--Silverstein estimated that every 30 seconds someone walked in the store. The clientele initially mainly bought Jewish and foreign-language papers, which began to change around 1963 as they sold more copies of the Village Voice and underground magazines. Silverstein and Shephard gave the store its current name, initially Gem's Spa--the name comes from Gladys, Etta, and Miriam, the names of the wives of Silverstein and Shephard and Shephard's ex-wife."

GEM = Gladys, Etta, and Miriam! Who knew?


New York Dolls, 1973

In 1969, Allen Ginsberg ended a poem with this line: "Back from the Gem Spa, into the hallway, a glance behind and sudden farewell to the bedbug-ridden mattresses piled soggy in dark rain."

What has changed? We're still going for egg creams at Gem Spa and dodging bedbug mattresses on St. Mark's sidewalk. Perhaps all is not lost.


Michael Sean Edwards, 1979

16 comments:

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

Right next to Gem's was a Jewish deli/restaurant in the early 60's with tables and chairs and people noshing and kibbutzing about life. As a kid I always stopped in for frank & sauerkraut almost every Friday. They still would treat your visit as you were royalty, no matter how meaningless or little you may have spent, with people looking in to papers they got from Gem's. No matter how any times I may have stepped into Gem's over the years I still fondly recall the Jewish deli but can't recall its name, if it had a name besides Deli. What a klutz...

Alex said...

I would hate to see Gem Spa close, it was one of the places I frequented all through out college. Everyone in college smoked clove cigarettes and I bought mine there, among other things.

James Campbell Taylor said...

I didn't know it was once called "Gem's Spa" (I suppose Gem Spa sounds almost the same). It appears the superfluous "S" was abandoned sometime between '69 and '72, at least according to the awning.

esquared said...

didn't hear of the rumour. one of the reasons why I have no FB. but thank dieu Gem Spa is still open,

Profjoe223 said...

As good as the egg creams are Gem Spa's were always vastly inferior to the candy store on the next block (7th and Second) called, "Auster's."

He made a special secret syrup that he sold independently in large gallon bottles, and folks lucky enough to have seltzer delivered in those fabulous blue bottles to their homes could make a superior egg cream anytime.

Ah, Auster's. . . now the stuff of legend . . .

EV Grieve said...

Was never so happy to buy a newspaper there this morning.

Goggla said...

I had no idea of the origin of the name. Long live Gem Spa!

Marty Wombacher said...

I didn't know that about the name either. And glad that was just a rumor that has a happy ending for a change!

Anonymous said...

On one of the worse streets. I remember fights breaking out everywhere. You had "The Electric Circus" towards 3rd avenue and "The Filmore East" on 6th st. OK , it was a corner stop. If lost, so... everything else has gone. I grew up on Ave D. Look what they have done to the neighborhood ("East Village").

house of iris said...

Mykola, the restaurant you are thinking of was called the Kiev. they served russian food. not a jewish deli. we used to go there in the late "70's after a night out. the pierogies (dumplings filled w/potato) were phenomenal and inexpensive. for around $3.00 , there was more than anyone could possibly eat in one session, making it a great dish to share,or to bring the leftovers home for another meal. great soups as well.

Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

House of Iris: This was way before the Kiev. On the Kiev site, 7th St & 2nd Ave, was a candy store/coffee shop called Mindy's, after the owner. It was a place where the local kids hung out. The Jewish restaurant was a block away on St Marks Place, right next door to Gem Spa.

Krankygirl said...

Mykola, maybe you're thinking of B&H Dairy. Was it long and skinny? That's where I discovered Kasha & Eggs and Matzoh Brie.

Anonymous said...

Kiev served Ukrainian food, not Russian.

- Serge

DAVID RAT said...

don't forget to support RAY'S also...we need to keep Ray going...

Anonymous said...

Lived on St. Marks from 79 to 92. Thanks for reminding me of clover cigarettes from Gem Spa. Totally forgot about that. Have fond memories of ordering breakfast special that came with a shot of fresh squeezed o.j. at B+H. Best remedy for a hangover after a night at the Holiday Lounge.

Anonymous said...

"B&H Dairy" is the lunch counter deli two doors down from Gem spa and it's still open and still good. It is so named because its a kosher eatery that does not serve meat according to the rule of not mixing meat and milk. So you can go there and have omelettes, soups, and the greatest tuna melt I have ever had. Ever. Also they make fresh juices.