Iconic East Village bodega Gem Spa has served its famous egg creams to the likes of Jack Kerouac (who mentioned the place by name in a 1969 poem) and Patti Smith, who writes in Just Kids that Robert Mapplethorpe bought her one on the first day they met. In 1973, Gem Spa appeared on the back cover of The New York Dolls' debut album, and in the photo above, Madonna can be seen outside in 1984. The Second Avenue and St. Mark's Place mainstay has fallen on hard times more recently, though, and a new article in New York Times asks, "Can Instagram and Egg Creams Save the Last Punk Rock Bodega?"

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Once frequented by beat poets, punks and world-famous artists, it has become a shadow of its former self, as it contends with both obsolescence and hypergentrification. This past spring, the store lost its cigarette and lottery licenses, and now has to come up with almost $17,000 a month in sales of Juul pods, officially licensed T-shirts, and various bric-a-brac just to keep the lights on.

The woman who has given herself the task of saving the store is Parul Patel, who took the reins last fall from her father, who has Parkinson’s disease.

She didn’t like what she found: Her father, Ray Patel, had apparently been operating at a loss, racking up about $100,000 in debt. He now lives in Chatham, N.J., with Ms. Patel, who commutes almost two hours every day to 2nd Avenue and St. Marks to try and revive the bodega her father bought in the mid-’80s.

By that time, Gem Spa’s glory days had arguably already passed. Allen Ginsberg, who had mentioned the store in his poetry, was long gone from the city. David Johansen, the songwriter of the legendary East Village proto-punk band the New York Dolls, fondly remembered when the previous owners of Gem Spa switched the egg cream glasses from glass to plastic, because his friends used to turn them into weapons against cops when one of their ilk was stopped and searched.

Although the owners barely tolerated their presence, it was a common meeting place for people in the counterculture of the time. “That’s where the town criers would congregate,” said Mr. Johansen, who is now 69. “It was a meeting place, and if you stood there for a couple of hours you would see everyone you knew.”

He moved uptown in 1973, and Jean-Michel Basquiat painted “Untitled (Gem Spa)” in 1982. Just a few years later, a teenage Parul Patel was learning to mix ice milk, seltzer and flavored syrup in her dad’s new shop.

Ms. Patel, who is now 48, used to manage $40 million as a Morgan Stanley financial adviser. She also ran a successful cake-baking business. Now her days consist of trying to get people to actually buy something from a corner store that they may recognize from album covers and movies but which doesn’t actually sell much.
Ms. Patel’s business is probably the least of the neighborhood’s concerns. In the 2015 book “St. Mark’s Is Dead,” the author Ada Calhoun wrote that the street “is for the wanderer, the undecided, the lonely, and the promiscuous,” but today, it’s more likely for people who want to buy Japanese beauty products at a boutique across the street from Gem Spa.

Read the whole article here.

Meanwhile, Gem Spa is now selling a vegan version of its egg cream, too.

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