By Patrick Hedlund
DNAinfo News Editor
EAST VILLAGE — Neighborhood residents rallied on Monday to prevent Ray’s Candy Store, a fixture near the corner of E. 7th Street and Avenue A for more than 35 years, from closing.
The store fell behind on its rent and is facing eviction by its landlord. A group of neighbors recently began holding fundraisers to help the store’s eponymous proprietor, Ray Alavarez, 77, raise money to stay in business.
More than 100 people paid from $5 to $15 Monday night to listen to local bands and catch "performance preacher" and former mayoral candidate, Rev. Billy, at the Theater for the New City on First Avenue.
“The Lower East Side is very special. Everybody knows each other, everybody helps each other,” an emotional Alvarez said during the festivities. “The future’s bright. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Earlier this year, Ray had fallen two months behind his monthly rent of $3,500 for the no-frills, 24-hour store, known for its egg creams, hot dogs and heaping portions of Belgian fries.
Local residents and activists began brainstorming ways to infuse the store with cash, including starting a late-night delivery service, the New York Times reported.
“He is one of the last of the old-time Lower East Side businesses that are still left in the neighborhood, and it’s kind of like this place has become a community center, a cultural meeting place,” said John Penley, a local activist and photographer. “Everything goes on there — it’s more than just a store.”
Local City Councilwoman Rose Mendez also attended the event and promised to use her political clout to help Ray's, noting that the community was successful in preventing the loss of a supermarket on Second Avenue a couple of years ago.
“We have power, and when there’s will and hope and some power, we can get it done,” Mendez said. “Tonight is just the beginning of trying to save Ray’s.”