Gem Spa

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Gem Spa
Genre Newsstand
Candy store
Headquarters 131 2nd Avenue, East Village, Manhattan, United States
Number of locations
St. Mark's Place and Second Avenue
Products Egg cream, Newspapers, Magazines
Owner Goldfeder family (1920s-1957)
Ruby Silverstein and Harold Shepard (1957-~1969)
Irving Stein (1971)
Ray Patel (1986-present)

Gem Spa is a newspaper stand[1] and candy store[2] located on the corner of St. Mark's Place and Second Avenue in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. It opened under another name in the 1920s, and received its current name in 1957.[3] It is open 24 hours a day,[4] and is known for being commonly considered to be the birthplace of the authentic New York City-style egg cream,[5] which its awning describes as "New York's Best."[6][7] It does not stock pornographic magazines, and it gets magazines delivered one or two days before other New York City newsstands.[8]

In the 1950s, Gem Spa was a gathering place for beats, and in the 1960s it was a hippie hangout,[9] known for selling a wide selection of underground newspapers.[10][11] New York Magazine named it the best newsstand in the East Village in 2001,[8] and it has been featured on television programs about food, including Kelly Choi's Secrets of New York.

The building in which Gem Spa is located, 131 Second Avenue, or 36 St. Marks Place, was built in 1898-1900 and was designed by Louis F. Heinecke in the Renaissance Revival style. It is located within the East Village/Lower East Side Historic District, which was created in October 2012.[5]


The Lower East Side History Project reports the site was an outlet for the Chain Shirt Shop in 1922, and that Gem Spa had opened by the 1950s.[12] Sociologist Daniel Bell, who claimed in the 1970s that his uncle Hymie created the egg cream, says that another man called Hymie owned a candy store serving egg creams on the site of Gem Spa in the 1920s.[13] Village Voice reported in the 1970s that people remembered going to the store before World War I.[14] For thirty years up until 1957 the store was owned by the Goldfeder family.[3]

"It had been a Beat mecca in the 1950s, a hippie hangout in the sixties and more recently was the scene of a famous photograph of the Dolls."

Gary Valentine of Blondie[9]

From 1957 until at least 1969 the store was owned by Ruby Silverstein and Harold Shepard, 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 Shepard 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 Shepard and Shepard's ex-wife.[3]

In 1966, The Village Voice called it the "official oasis of the East Village";[15] it was known as a "hippie hangout".[13] Abbie Hoffman gathered people for his 1967 protest at the New York Stock Exchange at Gem Spa,[16] Allen Ginsberg called it a "nerve center" of the city,[17] and the Art Workers' Coalition had their offices above the store.[18] Robert Mapplethorpe bought Patti Smith an egg cream there shortly after she moved to New York in 1967.[19] In the late 60s it was midway between two other iconic venues, the Fillmore East and the Electric Circus.[14]

The owner in 1971 was Irving Stein.[20] That year Village Voice reported "A permanent cluster of junkies using its doorways and newspaper benches as home base hasn't helped business any"[21] and the store was closed for a time from February 1972 when it ran into financial trouble[14] and the counter-culture that had helped support it collapsed.[22] The storefront caught fire that May,[23] but it reopened that June with new management.[22]

The owner as of 2015 is Ray Patel, who was born in the early 1940s in Gujarat, India. He runs the store with his wife and bought the store in 1986, when he replaced one brick wall with glass. He does no advertising and relies instead on word of mouth.[24] He learned making egg creams from the previous Italian owner, who in turn learned it from his Jewish predecessor.[25] The store manager Salim said in 2010 that only four people know the recipe.[26]

In popular culture[edit]

Gem Spa is featured on the back cover of the first album by the New York Dolls.[11][27] Poets Allen Ginsberg and Ted Berrigan both mentioned the stand in their works.[15] Gem Spa is the name of one of the main works painted by Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1982.[28]


  1. ^ Gem Spa,
  2. ^ Allen, Irving Lewis (1995). "New Ways of Urban Living". The City in Slang: New York Life and Popular Speech. Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 0195357760. 
  3. ^ a b c Wilson, Jane (2 June 1969). "Anatomy of a candy store". New York Magazine. Retrieved 29 May 2011. 
  4. ^ "Top 10 rock'n'roll landmarks in the US". The Guardian. 3 August 2007. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Brazee, Christopher D., et al. "East Village/Lower East Side Historic District Designation Report" New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (October 9, 2012)
  6. ^ "Gem Spa's Awning Doesn't Lie, They Really Do Have New York's Best Egg Cream". NYC Food Guy. 2010-05-05. Retrieved 2012-08-25. 
  7. ^ Lauckner, Sally (19 October 2010). "A Literary Tour of the East Village". The Local. The Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University, and The New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Best of New York: Best Newsstands". New York Magazine. 2001. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  9. ^ a b Valentine, Gary (2006). "2. Village of the Damned". New York Rocker: My Life in the Blank Generation with Blondie, Iggy Pop, and Others, 1974-1981. Da Capo Press. p. 27. ISBN 1-56025-944-2. 
  10. ^ Romm, Ethel (14 October 1968). "Blueprint for Revolution". New York Magazine. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  11. ^ a b "Tanqueray Rock-n-Roll Trivia Map". New York Magazine. 12 October 1992. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  12. ^ "St. Marks Place Lot by Lot History". Lower East Side History Project. 16 October 2009. Archived from the original on 4 October 2010. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  13. ^ a b Simonson, Robert (1 September 2010). "Iconic Foods: Egg Cream". Edible Manhattan. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  14. ^ a b c Whelton, Clark (24 February 1972). "Gem Spa closes: Bye Bye, Miss American Egg Cream". Village Voice. Retrieved 29 May 2011. 
  15. ^ a b Morgan, Bill (1997). The beat generation in New York: a walking tour of Jack Kerouac's city. City Lights Books. p. 100. ISBN 0-87286-325-5. 
  16. ^ Jordan, Ken (7 May 2007). ""I Know We Won" - Abbie Speaks". Reality Sandwich. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  17. ^ Ney, William (September 1988). "A talk with Allen Ginsberg". The New Common Good. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  18. ^ Harriman, Jr., Louis (1997). "The Judson Flag Show 1970: actually called The People's Flag Show". Greenwich Village Gazette. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  19. ^ Rose, Caryn (October 9, 2015). "A Step-By-Step Walk Through 'Just Kids' and Patti Smith's New York". Village Voice. Retrieved May 12, 2017. 
  20. ^ Lichtenstein, Grace (17 January 1971). "On Lower East Side, Opinions on Police Strike Parallel the Generation Gap". New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  21. ^ Truscott, Lucian (August 26, 1971). "One-Way Street". The Village Voice. Retrieved May 12, 2017. 
  22. ^ a b Whelton, Clark (22 June 1972). "Gem Spa lives, sort of". The Village Voice. Retrieved 11 February 2012. 
  23. ^ "Gem Spa burns". The Village Voice. 4 May 1972. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  24. ^ Carlson, Jen (August 13, 2015). "A Look Inside The Iconic East Village GEM Spa". The Gothamist. Archived from the original on October 17, 2015. Retrieved October 22, 2015. 
  25. ^ Berger, Joseph (31 July 2005). "The Pizza Is Still Old World, Only Now the Old World Is Tibet". New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2011. 
  26. ^ "Egg cream maintains mythic status at Gem Spa". The Hofstra Chronicle. 20 October 2010. Archived from the original on 25 January 2013. Retrieved 11 February 2012. 
  27. ^ Carlson, Jen (20 April 2006). "NYC Album Art: New York Dolls". Gothamist. Archived from the original on 5 July 2009. 
  28. ^ "Gem Spa - BASQUIAT Jean-Michel - Art Actuel". Art Actuel. Archived from the original on 2014-09-07. Retrieved 2012-08-25. 

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Gem Spa at Wikimedia Commons