Thursday, May 7, 2020

Gem Spa


Another nail has been hammered into the coffin of St. Mark's Place, and the East Village, as Gem Spa has shuttered for good.

The dearly beloved shop's owner, Parul Patel, confirmed the sad news. The landlord, she told me, would not reduce or freeze the rent during the pandemic shutdown, nor would he promise not to evict the business when they were late on rent at this difficult time. The debt just kept adding up and they could not go on.

We all knew this was coming, though we hoped against hope. Many of us tried to save it--converted it into a Schitibank, cash mobbed it, celebrated its bohemian history, raised money for it, even Quarantine Cash Mobbed it--but in the pandemic there is no bouncing back.

"It is heartbreaking," Parul told me. "We truly have the best customers in the world. We consider our customers to be family. I don't think any other business has seen this amount of incredible support and love."

Parul says she will keep the website going, with Gem Spa history and with merchandise for sale--check it out and buy some while it lasts, to support the Patel family and help them recoup their losses.

Mom and pops, already struggling under high rents and difficult landlords, simply will not survive the coronavirus crisis. They could have--if the city had any real compassionate, progressive leadership.

For years, New York's City Council had the chance to protect small businesses like Gem Spa. They could have passed the Small Business Jobs Survival Act. They could have passed commercial rent regulation. But they didn't. They did nothing. And now the city's already strained mom and pops are dying under the unbearable stress of the coronavirus shutdown. When the city finally reopens, there will be nothing left but the chains.

As Penny Arcade put it on Facebook, Gem Spa was "the beating heart of the East Village and The LES... No good can come out of it closing and, in the end, the erasure of history victimizes even the people who hurry it along."

my last Gem Spa egg cream, Egg Cream Day, March 2020

In a recent article, author Arundhati Roy called the pandemic a portal, "a gateway between one world and the next," in which humans have the chance to imagine a new world. The pandemic has brought the engine of capitalism to a halt, she says, "And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality."

It is too late for Gem Spa and many others, but it is not yet too late for New York. Now is the time to press for real change in this city. We must not return to the terrible normal. We must demand a new world.

Gem Spa History
Gem Spa to Schitibank
Gem Spa Not Vanishing Yet
Gem Spa Cash Mob
A Moment at Gem Spa


  1. I was so sorry to see this, and lament Gem Spa's closure. I hope the Patel family can open a new business in NYC at some point in the future. But I fear that closure going to be unavoidable for a wide array of small businesses, which I imagine many large landlord/real estate companies welcome. One possible outcome could be (have been?) that remade city and society--and globe--in which predatory late (neo)capitalism and necrocapitalism are not ascendant, though as Naomi Klein and others keep warning us, those in power will use any opportunity, not least catastrophe like this Covidemic, to enact their plans.

    We already see this in the various relief bills the Congress passed that were heavily weighted in favor of large corporations, banks and Wall Street, and which, coupled with the pro-corporate Federal Reserve, which is funneling capital into their coffers, as middle, working-class and poor people suffer. Even the progressives in Congress--the House in particular--cannot seem to get their acts together to force Pelosi's hand and demand--DEMAND at the point of shutting votes down--that more pro-labor, pro-small business, pro-HUMAN bills be passed during this crisis. Every bill to address this crisis should come frome the House or be debated, even if swiftly, by its Democratic progrressive block.

    I have not given up hope, but I can already see, as the Dow and NASDAQ and NYSE keep climbing, despite millions of people out of work, running out of options, lurching toward financial ruin and psychic despair, that the fix already seems to be in, and we are going to have to fight tooth and nail for the heart and soul of New York and the rest of the country, let alone the globe, even as we battle this invisible, viral horror.

  2. I think that the landlords of these places are about to be in for a very rude awakening. For places like this that are closing, who is going to come in? Retail is getting slaughtered. Neiman Marcus just declared bankruptcy. Barneys New York is gone. Macys, Sears, and the rest are teetering. Storefronts that are empty are going to sit that way for quite a while. Are new restaurants going to open? Maybe, but it's by no means certain. If I had a tenant I'd go pretty easy and see what happens for a while.

    On another subject: I notice in the older picture that the name on the sign and awning is "Gems Spa" with an S but no apostrophe. Did the name change at some point?

  3. Another iconic NYC place gone- will it ever end? I don't think I'll recognize anything the next time I am back in The City...

  4. Is the vintage BW photo from the 1970s? Or early 1980s ?

  5. It is a bit like a death. So permanent. It is not coming back. Even if they were to open someplace else, the surroundings and times have changed so much. Yet you can visit it in your memories, though memories fade, the feelings can be strong.

  6. Hello, I am from NY and was born in 1979. I experienced the 80s and 90s there, before gentrification. Gentrification is one thing that killed the vibe there but not the only one. Some people may not like this opinion. The people that gave it that vibe which are African Americans, Puerto Ricans, Italians, and other white people who's families were there for generations have moved south to Florida and various other states... This is when NY left ��... They have been replaced by more brand new immigrants now from overseas and south of the broader that bring a completely different vibe now. Some people don't want to acknowledge this but this is the direct reason it is not the same vibe, culture or look at all. The only groups still left in NY from before gentrication are Dominicans and West Indian blacks.


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