There’s a U-Haul parked outside Uncle Sam’s Army Navy Outfitters store on 8th Street, because the thrift store closed yesterday after 20 years in Greenwich Village.
Owner Richard Geist was on hand to pack up the merchandise with the other staff. “We were more than a store, we were a service [for] veterans who want to bury their father in his military uniform, theater people, Halloween,” Geist said.
Geist, who moved from Toronto and opened the store at age 24, chose its location, between 6th and 5th Avenues, for its history. “The Village was the epicenter of the creative world,” he said. “Everything started here.”
Uncle Sam’s is just steps from Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios, where artists including Patti Smith, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Lorde, Adele and Frank Ocean have all recorded music.
Last year, Geist was part of a campaign with fellow 8th Street merchant Storm Ritter, whose store has also closed, to bestow West 8th Street with the honorary name of Jimi Hendrix Way, to acknowledge the legendary musician’s contributions to the neighborhood. Their petition currently has over 20,000 signatures, Geist said. Though it’s not final yet, Geist said the City has already indicated it would not accommodate their request, saying that Hendrix did not have enough of a good influence on New York. That, Geist said, is when he knew he had to leave 8th Street.
“Can you imagine people landing in JFK from all over the world, and they’re walking on these streets?” Geist said. “We’re worse than an empty mall; Starbucks, McDonalds, that’s all you see, just chains.”
Mayer “Mike” Ebbo, who owns Mind Boggler Shoes down the block, stopped by to ask Geist how much he’d paid for the U-Haul. “I don’t believe I’ll be here past 2019,” said Ebbo, who opened his store in 1988. “We do a lot of online business, but there’s no money in it.”
Monk thrift shop also recently closed its 27-year-old location at West 8th and MacDougal Street. A sign on the empty storefront directs customers to its locations in Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
Geist hopes to reopen Uncle Sam’s on Orchard Street on the Lower East Side. The store’s additional locations in Toronto and Buffalo will remain open.
At one point he asked my name, and rummaged through a pile for a second before presenting me with an engraved cutting board.
“There’s no J, but here’s an I,” he said.