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

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