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We Got It Covered

UntitledSuzanne Rozdeba Avenue A this morning.
UntitledSuzanne Rozdeba

We know how to deal with hazards in the East Village. And then, someone got creative with it.

What next? Tinsel, and a fairy on top?

End May Be Nigh for Mary Help of Christians, Flea Market Prepares to Close

Mary Help of ChristiansChelsia Rose Marcius

Mary Help of Christians may soon have a new owner, and the long-standing flea market next to the church is preparing to permanently fold up its tables.

John Matcovich, the manager of Immaculate Conception Parish, which has overseen the church on 12th Street since 2007, said that a couple of months ago the Archdiocese of New York found a buyer for the church as well as the adjacent school building and parking lot; the deal is expected to be made official in September.

Joseph Zwilling, director of communications for the Archdiocese, declined to confirm that a contract was in the works, citing a policy of not discussing real estate dealings until they are finalized. “The process is not over with Mary Help of Christians,” he said. Read more…

Ray’s Candy Cleans Up

Picture 065Kenan ChristiansenA Ray’s customer contemplates the closure notice.

This morning Ray Alvarez could not stop fidgeting. He checked the soda machine for dirt, scrubbed the countertop with bleach, and consolidated the coffee into one pot. As he worked he counted off each potential violation.

“Now I’ve got to wash these, too, or they’ll be on to me,” he said, referring to the empty coffee pitchers.

Two days ago, Ray’s Candy Store, at 113 Avenue A, was ordered to close by the Department of Health. The store had racked up 53 points in health code violations, for issues which included mouse excrement on the floor and dirt on the soda machine.

The 78-year-old owner was told he could not reopen until these issues were addressed and his shop passed a follow-up inspection. At the time, Mr. Alvarez ignored the order, fearing that if he closed, for even a day, the loss in revenue would put him out of business for good.

It ended up being a costly decision. When the health inspector returned yesterday and found him still operating, Mr. Alvarez received a hefty fine and now estimates that he owes a total of $7,000.
Read more…

The Art of the Bookstore

Browsers at Mast BooksBrendan BernhardBrowsers at Mast Books.

On May 8, Mast Books, which takes up about 450 square feet at 66 Avenue A, sailed into its second year as a viable new business in the East Village. Why “Mast”? Is Bryan Leitgeb, who owns the store together with his wife, James McKee, a secret fan of Patrick O’Brian, C.S. Forester, and other icons of nautical literature? Smiling at this idea, Mr. Leitgeb shakes his head but says he prefers not to reveal why his store should have such a singular name.

Mr. Leitgeb, 37, who came to New York from Flint, Mich., is already a veteran of the city’s used-books business. (He spent seven years at Mercer Books alone.) He is also confident that he has hit upon the right business formula in the right place at the right time. Unlike East Village Books, long a fixture at 99 St. Marks Place, Mast has the air of a used book store acutely aware it is in the midst of an intellectual revolution that has raised the image far above the word.

This knowledge is Mast’s secret. With its polished wood floors, white walls, track lighting, and eye-catching display tables, it doesn’t look “used” or “second-hand” in the slightest. On the contrary, it is designed to evoke a small art gallery and to attract similarly chic crowds, although its strong neighborhood ethos prevents it from feeling in any way exclusionary. Mr. Leitgeb, whose blue eyes are alternately melancholy and highly focused, does his part to make non-hipsters feel at home by going unshaven, wearing non-designer glasses, and a brown cap unlikely to be featured in the next edition of Vogue. More importantly, he’s also unsnobbish, helpful, and friendly.
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Holding Court with Needle and Thread

GINO 7Grace Maalouf Gino di Girolamo speaks with a customer at his East 14th Street shop, Royal Tailor.

Gioacchino di Girolamo has a punctured nail. For the first time in decades, the needle of his black iron sewing machine has slipped straight through his finger, and the Royal Tailor of 14th Street is not quite sure how it happened. Maybe he fell asleep at the wheel. After all, he keeps it spinning just about every weekday from about six in the evening till sunrise, and all day on the weekends. Six days a week, nearly every week, and yet —

“Never in my life this happened,” he says of the wound. And it’s been more than 45 years that the bespectacled man from Palermo, Sicily, has been steadily stitching shirts and dresses, hemming pants and re-fastening buttons for the New York City masses unraveling at the seams. In all that time, he hasn’t strayed far from Avenue A; he has worked in four different shops, all here in a two-block radius. And as the East Village has prospered, turned violent and then fallen peaceful again around him, he has watched it all from behind an ever-present pile of clothing waiting to be mended.

“I don’t know. I work hard,” he says about the possibility of having dozed off. “But, thank God.”

Business is good, though that might be incidental. For the 75-year-old Mr. di Girolamo — Gino to his friends and customers — the long hours and open door that have made him a cornerstone on this avenue aren’t about money.
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Liquor License Opposed for Venue

The State Liquor Authority Committee of Community Board 3 Monday night refused to endorse a liquor license for a proposed music and restaurant space on Avenue A. With the 4-3 vote, the committee turned aside a proposal to open a new Mexican restaurant and lounge at 34 Avenue A. The proposal had been submitted by several owners, including Phil Hartman, who owns Two Boots Pizza and a former venue, Mo Pitkin’s House of Satisfaction, and the music promoter Todd Patrick; the fate of the project is unclear. —Hadas Goshen