The legendary Gem Spa received a satirical make-over as “Schitibank” after rumors that Citibank was angling for its location (which Citibank then denied). The event morphed into a “cash mob” as friends and neighbors mobilized to help save the East Village icon from debt and disaster. h/t Josh!
Gem Spa, on St. Marks Place and 2nd Avenue in New York, has always been the go-to spot in the East Village; the place where everyone meets everyone else (“Meet you at Gem Spa!”).
In 1968, Joey Skaggs launched the Hippie Bus Tour to Queens from Gem Spa. This was his parody cultural exchange tour, which is memorialized in Artsy on the occasion of it’s 50th anniversary: When Pranks Become Works of Art.
And, in 1969, Skaggs, his pretend-wife, and a gang of bicyclers held a mock Hell’s Angels wedding parade in front of Gem Spa.
For a terrific historical perspective on St. Marks Place in the East Village, check out “St. Marks Is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street” by Ada Calhoun.
Gem Spa Rally Turns Beloved East Village Institution Into Mock “Schitibank”
by Jesse Jarnow
September 16, 2019
A source of delicious egg creams and daily newspapers since at least the 1930s, an unassuming shop at the corner of St. Marks Place and 2nd Avenue was renamed Gem Spa in 1957 and swiftly transformed into a meeting ground for generations of downtown artists, musicians, poets, and activists. This year has brought fears that the store is in danger, however, and on Saturday a “cash mob” helped transform the venerable newsstand into a “Schitibank,” evoking past counterculture happenings of the old, weird East Village.
Organized by Vanishing New York’s Jeremiah Moss and #SaveNYC to draw attention to the plight of small businesses in a corporate-dominated Manhattan, the protest blanketed the legendary corner in art that mashed up Citibank’s brand of cuddly capitalism with the neighborhood’s countercultural heroes.
“Yes, another Schitibank,” read the banner over the front window, while art featured some of the store’s most famous customers. “The same Schiti ATM used by the New York Dolls,” promised a sign with a picture of the glam-punk quintet outside Gem Spa, originally featured on the back of the band’s 1973 debut. Another offered “Robert Mapplethorpe points,” redeemable for egg creams, vapes, and leather cock rings.
It’s been a turbulent year for Gem Spa. The illness of longtime owner Ray Patel and the recent loss of their cigarette license, compounded by the ongoing decline of print media, have only fed ongoing rumors of takeover by Citibank or another corporate force. Zoltar the Fortune-Teller disappeared in the late spring, as did the daily newspapers. Last month, the NY Times reported that Patel is being sued by the shop’s landlord for thousands in unpaid back rent. But Parul Patel, running the business in the wake of her father’s illness, insists “the worst is behind us. We’re not closing, we’re not thinking about closing.”