East Village ‘New’ Rallies to Save its ‘Old’
Since 1974, Ray Alvarez’s East Village store has been a safe haven for punk rockers craving cheese fries, small children seeking an after-school ice cream, and local residents simply looking for a chat after a long day. Even at 77-years-old, he still works the all-night shift—just as he has every night, seven days a week, for more than a quarter of a century.
Yet this winter, Ray’s future at 113 Avenue A has grown uncertain. He faces insurance complications, high utility bills and a steep decline in sales. As he struggles to make rent, his young, tech-savvy supporters, armed with Facebook, Twitter, and old-fashioned legwork, may be his only hope.
Today, the blogs are abuzz with news of tonight’s benefit concert (Theater for the New City). The ‘Save Ray’s! Facebook group has more than 2,000 fans. And don’t forget—it’s not too late to donate online via PayPal.
The fundraising efforts began last summer when Lily O’Donnell and her friend, Haley Moss Dillon, both 22, began to tap into online resources for donations and networking. Having grown up in the East Village with Ray in their life, the girls were determined to protect their neighborhood anchor.
With the help of Leah Milstein, they organized a benefit concert at the Sidewalk Café in February. The event raised $1,300, which went directly to helping Alvarez pay his $3,500 rent.
Marilyn Kirby, 40-year resident of the East Village, whose son was a classmate of the girls, was especially pleased with the benefit.
“It had a real old fashion, old East Village feel, like a block party,” Kirby said. “It’s a lovely project, one that these girls believe in.”
Even if Alvarez pays his monthly rent, he must also address the insurance code violations caused by his deep fryer, or cease to serve his famed Belgian fries ($3). According to Alvarez, getting the store up to code could cost tens of the thousands of dollars.
Since 2000, Alvarez has had a month-to-month contract, which makes him ineligible for the small business loan that he needs. Alvarez has yet to convince his landlord’s property managing agent, Barbara Chupa, to agree to a lease.
“I need shoes,” Alvarez said. “I need a day off. I cannot have a day off. I asked for a temporary freeze on rent but the landlord can’t give that to me. He has his own expenses.”
Still, the landlord has remained sympathetic through Ray’s financial woes.
“The landlord could have gotten $7,000 a month for ray's space a few years back but did not do so,” said Arihood. “They have been trying to work with Ray for years.”
Ray’s situation is not unique. It is increasingly reflective of "changes to the character and demographic makeup of the city and the East Village," according to Jon Ritter, Assistant Director of Urban Design and Architecture Studies at New York University.
"The causes are many, but the success of Starbucks' etc. also reflects the changing tastes of the city," Ritter explained.
Though the fundraising efforts have only made a dent in Alvarez’s prohibitive expenses, East Villagers remain steadfast in their resolve to support him. Local musicians at tonight’s event will include DJ Didi of the Brazilian, the East River String Band, the Bill Murray Experience, and more (Doors open at 7:30).
What else could help ease his financial strains?
“More customers!” Alvarez said. “Especially from NYU. I love them I cannot survive without their business. Come!”