Gem Spa owner Parul Patel (left) and John Jovino manager Charlie Wu (right)  while the cleared out their businesses, 5/17/20.

Two of New York’s iconic businesses cleared their shelves last weekend as East Village’s Gem Spa had its signage removed and Little Italy’s police supplier John Jovino emptied its gun racks for good. Neither business had been expecting to close before the COVID-19 crisis started.

Workers took down Gem Spa’s signage on a gorgeous Sunday, with few passersby to witness it. The beloved egg cream spot announced its closure earlier this month after a recent resurgence in attention. Owner Parul Patel, whose father Ray bought the store in 1986, told us things were looking up this year. “We were right on track with being featured in a tour guide and NBC was about to do a small business segment with us. It’s unfortunate what happened with COVID-19, but we still have merchandise on the website so you can have a piece of history.”

Gem Spa owner Parul Patel (left) alongside local filmmaker Emerson Rosenthal and comedienne Lauren Servideo.

East Village comedienne Lauren Servideo, who was out walking her dog with her boyfriend, was shocked to see Gem Spa’s sign being taken down. “We live on the block and see it everyday, ” Servideo said. “I’m an amateur New York historian and love the shot taken here with Madonna.” Also passing by was local firefighter Chris Bregel, who works in the firehouse at 25 Pitt Street. “We always drive by this place just to get egg creams,” said Bregel. “All my guys tell me they’re the best in the city.”

Local firefighter Chris Bregel (left) as Gem Spa’s signage was removed.

Across town in Little Italy, we caught up with Charlie Wu as he emptied out the John Jovino Gun Shop. Since 1985, Wu has managed the store for the Imperato family, who have owned it since 1920s. Wu emigrated from mainland China and is a former second lieutenant who was stationed at the Park Avenue armory during his career in the U.S. Army. When asked the reason for his closure, Wu said, “The first thing was the virus, the second was the rent and the third was the regulations.” 

Charlie Wu with his emptied shelves (left) and metal lined office (right).

Wu said John Jovino was the oldest gun shop in the city. “When I started there were 42 gun shops in the city and now only a few,” he said. “You have some shooting ranges and long-gun dealers but you cannot buy a pistol in the city except here. The city will not give out the permit to sell them.”

Wu’s personal firearm was a .380 caliber Beretta 84, which was similar to the majority of the guns he sold, mostly to law enforcement. “Ninety-five percent of my sales were to cops and in 35 years I had no violations. Every gun shop gets violations but never here. You can say I completed my mission with tears.”

Baz Bagels owner Bari Mussacchio, who opened next door six years ago, came to wish Wu goodbye and handed him a bag of bagels which she told us he brings home to Brooklyn every day. “We give him whatever we have when we close and he shares them with everyone at home.”

Bari’s shop has been closed since New York went on PAUSE but just reopened today. “In the meantime we’re selling make-your-own-bagel kits with everything you need, most importantly malt, which you can’t really get in a store.”

7- Local filmmaker Stevin Azo Michels (left) and Baz Bagels owner Bari Musacchio..

As Wu’s family helped carry the last of the boxes out, I spoke with filmmaker and NYU professor Stevin Azo Michels who’s lived in the neighborhood since the ’90s and was walking his dog. He told us how over the years he’s watched John Jovino’s block on Grand Street slowly disappear. “Next door was the Stabile Building, the old Italian-American bank. That was a beautiful building and it got torn down.”