A friend of mine once told me that your bodega knows all your darkest secrets. Being my primary water supply, East Village Farm on Avenue A in the East Village may know me better than I know myself. When I heard that they were closing I found it hard to believe; it’s clean, friendly, busy and, well, pricey. I always assumed it had long ago cleared the zenith of the retail life-cycle and was well into piloting the stratosphere of boundless, automatic prosperity. But this bodega has its own secret, one that anybody looking at the building from across the street will wonder: what’s upstairs?
The building's exterior today. (Photo: Kevin Shea Adams)
A giant windowless brick shell traversed only by an old, warped fire escape juts up some 40 feet directly above the store front - a giant black box. I learned from people in the neighborhood that this was once the old Hollywood Theatre which shut down in 1959 - but what was more surprising was when I found out it wasn’t just another dusty, gutted empty space, but that it was the functional store room for my dearest bodega! If the store was my sparkling spring, this was its cavernous aquifer.
Not your everyday shop storage space. (Photo: Kevin Shea Adams)
I began asking regularly about going upstairs at every two-dollar hydration visit. I wanted to photograph it, and at one point late at night did receive permission, only to return the following day to be met with language barriers and gestures of denial. Eventually, I found my friend working again and received an invitation to return “after midnight.” So I showed up with my camera and tripod - he warned me there was only one light, but it was plenty. Walking through the back, past all the things you would expect, and up a small staircase deposits you stage-left in this little store’s swollen subconscious.
It's been a while since theater-goers sat here. (Photo: Kevin Shea Adams)
After spending at least an hour shooting up there, I came down and gladly purchased a $15.50 six-pack of bud light. I’ll miss this place and the kind ladies who would sometimes slip a Haribo gummy pack into your bag. Rumor is the building and the old theatre are to be torn down very soon to make way for new development, and East Village Farm will be closed in just a few weeks.
Kevin Shea Adams is a photographer and musician living in New York City.
For another side of the story, read The Local East Village's story about the bodega's closing and the building's possible future.
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