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Photo by Genghis

GEM SPA: Legendary store defies internet rumor.


JANUARY 31, 2012

“The archetypal corner store closed its doors. Claiming the best egg creams around and the home of the birth of the New York Dolls, Gem Spa is a model to be emulated into the future. The old world will continue to die and we will take the best parts and make them live.”


FEBRUARY 1, 2012

7:25 A.M.

So wrong, on so many levels.

As is my daily weekday routine, I went to Gem Spa on the way to work this morning, to pick up a New York Post, and to scope out the motorcycle and car magazines. The voluminous magazine racks take up much of this legendary candy store, and give this candy store its well-earned reputation as the premier magazine store in Manhattan, that boasts the quickest acquisition of magazine titles in NYC. Consider this the Stroker Harley of magazine stores.

Gem Spa seemingly gets issues of magazines, days ahead of other venues. Yet, this store retains its seedy-in-a-good-way, Everyman’s Store Flavor. Gem Spa is as Old School NYC as it gets, man. There isn’t a glut of chrome and plastic festooning the store. There is no gimmicky doodadery to boost customer sales. People who return to this Little Store That Could for their reading material, come back again and again through the months, years and decades out of a sense of loyalty. This consists of not only a loyalty to Gem Spa as an entity, but also a loyalty to an ethereal idea: The idea of the Traditional Store that survives the Technological Age, to represent a bygone era. Characater lives in New York.

I’ve been coming here ever since it was a Biker Haven in the late 1960s. My Harley used to be part of the line-up of Harleys that parked in front of Gem Spa, starting at the corner of St. Marks Place and Second Avenue, a line that often extended halfway down the block toward 7th Street, like a thriving conga line of mechanical dancers. These were mechanical dancers with voices of gold. These Harley voices would reverberate off the buildings on Second Avenue so loud, that they could be heard from above 14th Street. The Sound of Harley Thunder used to fill the air, as dozens of bikes belonging to one percenters and independents alike, lined up in formation as Milwaukee Sisters, who shone their lovelight on passerbys.

Photo by Genghis

BEYOND HATS AND SCARVES: The view from inside Gem Spa

This morning, one of the Gem Spa guys was setting up the circular racks holding scores of winter hats on the sidewalk, ajacent to the store. Part of Gem Spa’s business is the sale of apparel including hats, scarves, sandals, gloves and sunglasses on the sidewalk on the St. Marks Place side of Gem Spa. These hats include animal hats that transform Gem Spa into a zoological wonder, replete with lions, tigers, and bears (oh my), with leopards, wolves, monkies and Siberian Huskies thrown in for good measure. Gem Spa is a regular Noah’s ark for adventurous citizens. You can even buy hats with built-in Mohawks on ’em here.

I said to my friend behind the counter (the counter has always been on the front-left of Gem Spa, for all of the 43 years I’ve been a customer), “Hey. Guess what I read on the internet this morning. I read that Gem Spa closed its doors last week.” My friend laughed and said, “Yeah crazy, huh? I don’t know where that came from. My boss said he heard the same thing on some news somewhere.” We both had a good chuckle about how quickly rumors of this type can get around with the burgeoning internet.

Photo by Genghis

RIDING MABEL TO GEM SPA: One of few Harleys who still visit Gem Spa.

Gem Spa is a New York City institution. You read in “Hippie Hangout” about how Gem Spa was a nexus of New York’s biker subculture of the ’60s and ’70s. It truly was America’s Ace Cafe. These days, the straight pipes of panheads, Sportsters and shovelheads rattling Gem Spa’s windows, are but a distant memory. Except for when I ride Mabel, my Harley 74 to Gem Spa to have a vanilla egg cream, that is. That’s when two great institutions in my life, my Harley and Gem Spa, cross paths once again, spanning the wispy decades between eras, to bring back biker memories and to create new ones. Gem Spa lives! My Harley Dream lives. Later.



  1. hacksaww Says:

    love that bike photo!

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