The Official There’s Always Next Year Shirt! Gem Spa, a shop on the corner of Manhattan Manhattan East Village, has some claims to fame. It’s the birthplace of custard, a delicacy of the soda store in New York City made by exploding milk and flavored syrup with seltzer; its signboard – the bold yellow letters spelled GEM SPA picked in the saloon-meet-circus font – have appeared in films such as Desperately Seeking Susan and on memorable art albums; and it is also part of the East Village logo such as Tompkins Square Park or CBGB frontage. But, like the latter, Gem Spa is in danger of disappearing, with the owner of the Donkey building hoping to sell space to a Citibank.
But the owner of Gem Spa, Parul Patel, quietly left, instead of coming to a surprising source to save his business: hyperbole beasts and the Official There’s Always Next Year Shirt! Streetwear is not the clearest path to making Gem Spa fit again, even among NYU students, who live mainly in the area. Patel is trying to get back the cigarettes and lottery licenses the business lost when a former employee sold cigarettes to underage smokers. She is also looking to modernize the menu: Stop by to get the custard and she will tell you that they now have vegan versions with almond milk and more flavors than just vanilla and chocolate.
She has stocked up of bottled kombucha and cold beer next to Sprite, plans to serve milkshakes and smoothies and juices, and she rationalizes the candy selection, saying no one will pay attention because of no who bought it. The Official There’s Always Next Year Shirt and – merch – it is surprisingly the most successful. Before Parul Patel’s father, Ray, bought Gem Spa in 1986, it has undergone many evolutions. For many years, it was converted from a soda store to a bodega, but was placed in the corner of St. Mark, a long-standing hub of cool and counter-cultural, it’s always a hangout. In the 1950s and ’60s, it was a gathering place for beatniks and hippies.