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Artists transform historic Gem Spa into "Schitibank" to help save it

Emma Orlow
Written by
Emma Orlow

Gem Spa is a newspaper stand and candy shop that's been home to one of New York's best egg creams since opening in 1957. (It opened before that in the 1920s, operating under a different name.) But in recent weeks, it's been facing closure. Local blog E.V. Grieve recently reported that the business has lost its license to sell cigarettes and lottery tickets, and Zoltar, the fortune teller game that sat out front, has been removed. Hours have also been scaled back at the corner spot, once known during the punk era for its all-night offerings. 

But last night, an art installation emerged on the historic East Village storefront. Faux advertising reads "Schitibank coming soon," and the fake ads feature punk bands like the New York Dolls, jokingly saying that it was once their preferred "bohemian" bank. (Gem Spa appeared on the back cover of the band's first album.) The art piece is a nod to the fact that Citibank has reportedly been trying to replace Gem Spa's location (Citibank, meanwhile, has denied this and even invited Gem Spa's team to their HQ for egg creams on their dime.)

The art installation is a collaboration between author Jeremiah Moss of Vanishing New York and Tommy Noonan and Doug Cameron of the design firm DCX Accelerator. Moss was a fan of the design duo's staged installation they called an “Artisanal Landlord Price-Hike Sale" at Brooklyn's Jesse's Deli when it was facing similar peril.

"We see too many large banks and large chain stores move into these small neighborhoods putting mom-and-pop shops out of business. We wanted to see if our art could prevent that. Gem Spa is a fixture of the community and we wanted to help," shares Noonan and Cameron on Moss' blog. The installation seems to also mock the Lower East Side opening of a Target branch that used CBGB's history in its marketing. "The whole store will look as if a Schitibank has come to the East Village and tried to co-opt the space in a cool way, kind of like many other corporations, Chase cafés, TD Bank that knocked down Mars Bar, Target Greenwich Village, and how John Varvatos took over CBGB’s and kept the vibe," they continued. 

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The piece comes ahead of Saturday's cash mob run by grassroots organization #SaveNYC that invites fans of Gem Spa to spend their money in support of the East Village fixture (The event runs from noon until 2pm.) The Schitibank installation is just one of a few creative solutions to save Gem Spa that's currently being piloted. Owner Ray Patel's daughter Parul even started the shop's own Instagram account to help spread awareness of its pending fate. The family behind the bodega made T-shirts with the iconic yellow logo as well and are selling paintings of the shop designed by local artists. Artist, Jean Michel Basquiat, who is featured in one of the Schitibank ads, made a painting in ode to Gem Spa back in 1982.

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Gem Spa is one of the few remaining bastion of the East Village as it once was. This weekend, show your support if the spot's storied history means something to you. 

Gem Spa is located at 131 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003.

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