For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Raul’s Candy Store.
Some major changes are coming to Loisaida: Avenue D is getting luxury rentals as well as a pizzeria from Kim’s Video. But around the corner from where La Isla recently shuttered, Raul’s Candy Store holds down fort. The bodega is no stranger to changes: it opened in 1976 at 190 Avenue D, then moved to 208 Avenue B about five years later. Now it’s a few doors down at 205 Avenue B – a sign in the window reading “Absolutely No Drugs or Hanging Out” harkens back to an earlier era. The Local spoke, in Spanish, to Petra Olivieri, wife of owner Raul Santiago (they’re celebrating their 45th anniversary this year).
When did you move to this location?
I can’t remember. But between there and here, we’ve been in business 35 years. We used to pay $100 for rent when we were at Avenue D. Then it started going up: $200, $300. Here, we now pay $2,400. So we have to sell a lot more.
You manage all that selling candy?
We sell “chucherias” (knick-knacks), candy and sodas. Raul also sells books and other stuff. There’s not that many of these type of stores around anymore.
There are even electric fans and bicycles out here. Where do you get this stuff?
Some people bring us things. Other times, we buy them. For small toys we go to Broadway, to the wholesale shops north of 26th street.
Do you have any employees?
No, it’s just us two. I’m retired and we take turns at the counter. We live over there on the corner of 12th Street.
How has the neighborhood changed since you got here?
The neighborhood has changed a lot and had its ups and downs. It used to be very down but now it’s progressed a lot. It went up, down and now up again. There are a lot of people from other countries moving in, and now rent here will cost you $1,200. To live here, you have to have one or two roommates.
Are you both from Puerto Rico?
100 percent. I was born in Las Marias and grew up in Mayagüez. Raul is from… I can’t remember where he’s from. Humacao, maybe. I met him here. He used to go to the island every year. I don’t.
Is it mostly Puerto Ricans who buy things here?
We get people from all classes, no matter the race or color. Some come in to look and take pictures. Others come to hang out. It’s like in Puerto Rico, where there are “kioskos,” small businesses where neighborhood people get together. We play dominos out here and we have a good time between people of the old guard.