About a week ago, a Starbucks opened on the corner of E. 3rd Street and 1st Avenue. As Grieve pointed out, it's a Starbucks "Reserve," which means it's special. Starbucks says it's there to remind us of "the early days of the specialty coffee business that we helped to create."
In other words, they want us to feel like we're in a real place and not a fake place. I guess that's why the signage is hand-painted on the bricks. It's more rustic that way. Maybe, if it looks authentic, it won't be egged or covered with GET THE FUCK OUT signs.
Before Starbucks came to this corner, and before its predecessor The Bean, there was Little Rickie.
Originally opened on First Street in 1985 by Phillip Retzky, Little Rickie moved to 49 1/2 First Avenue in 1987. They sold nostalgic, kitschy novelties--a lot of Elvis and Jesus, Mexican Day of the Dead skeletons, and vintage stuff. It was a great little place.
(You might argue that Little Rickie was an early gentrifier of the East Village, but then I'd have to repeat myself for the thousandth time about how the hyper-gentrification of today is very different from the gentrification of the 1980s and 90s, and how Little Rickie and Starbucks are not the same thing, and then I'd tell you to read the first chapter of Sarah Schulman's book The Gentrification of the Mind, and I'm really not in the mood for all that, to tell the truth.)
New York magazine, 1987
The Little Rickie people also had principles. When Pee-Wee Herman was arrested for indecent exposure in 1991, Retzky refused to raise the price on his Pee-Wee dolls--unlike many other merchants, he didn't want to profit from Mr. Reubens' penile misfortune.
Ironically, Little Rickie was sued by Starbucks in 1999 for selling stickers that changed the words on the Starbucks Coffee logo to say FUCK OFF.
Starbucks also sued a number of other local businesses for distributing the stickers, including Alt Coffee on Avenue A. Said the owner of Alt to the Times, ''New York City is being mallified and when you start to sterilize things and limit choices, people in the East Village don't like it.''
People in the East Village still don't like it--hence the eggs and GET OUT signs--but more and more people in the East Village do like it. Take a walk by the special new Starbucks today and you'll find it filled with customers.
New York magazine, 1987
What I miss most about Little Rickie is the vintage photo booth. I took many a photo in that booth and always enjoyed seeing the black-and-white strips taped to the front window. You never knew who you might find there--the famous and the semi-famous, including interesting characters like Punk Rock Pat.
There's a Facebook page for posting photos from the Little Rickie booth. Looking at them now is to see the past, the people who made up the East Village in the 1990s. Ghosts of the old neighborhood, they're a different breed.
If they were all still here, and still young, would this Starbucks exist?
If this Starbucks had a photo booth, what sort of personalities would fill it today?