Volume 79, Number 35 | February 3 - 9, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by J.B. Nicholas

Ray Alvarez at his store window.

Ray pays rent, faces fries fight; Benefit on tap

By Lincoln Anderson

Two months down, and one to go — at least for now. 

Monday, Ray Alvarez paid his $3,500 January back rent for his Avenue A candy store, and also his $650 back rent for his apartment in the same building. Just a week before, he had paid his December back rent.

To help him with the December back rent, two East Village women who grew up on his cheese fries and ice cream opened up a PayPal account that raised $1,000; other customers chipped in extra when they bought their coffees or Belgian fries.

This time around, Alvarez said the cash was raised, not through PayPal, but mainly through contributions by customers.

“Thanks to New York — save my neck,” he said Monday, standing behind his counter on his usual overnight shift. “I was almost out, out on the street. Everybody buy, like a hot dog, say, ‘Keep the change’ — that paid January. Even the little boys, the little girls, they donate their dollars, and that helped me out,” he said. “The nightmare is over.” 

He has been bowled over by people’s generosity.

“The New York public, I didn’t know that...,” he said, at a loss for words.

Even a homeless man tried to help, offering to paint the outside of his store. And one guy who was “pretty poor,” Alvarez noted, gave him $50.

Now, though, his February rent is looming.

“Today’s February 1. I got to come up with cash money,” he said.

His latest headache is that Barbara Chupa, his managing agent, is now telling him he has to get a costly Ansul System hood for his deep fryer; if the fryer temperature gets too high, the hood releases a fire-retardant powder.

“My intention is not to have him leave,” Chupa said in a phone interview. “But he has to get his Ansul System in and get liability insurance.”
She said she’s told Alvarez that if he can’t afford the Ansul System, he’ll have to remove the deep fryer and all his Belgian fries signs.

“He has a choice — either that [the Ansul System], or don’t sell the fries,” Chupa stated. 

But Alvarez noted he’s had a deep fryer the whole time he’s had the store, so he doesn’t understand Chupa’s new demand.

“Thirty-six years — I used to sell frozen fries,” he said. “I switched last four or five years — I make Belgian fries, same principle.”

Alvarez said he only uses a small deep fryer, and that it’s virtually impossible to tip over. In fact, he asserted, he’s been making fries so long, it should be grandfathered, not subject to any new regulations.

Anyway, he can’t ditch the fries, because they’re his main business, he said.

“No, because that’s all the income I have,” he said. “Winter, fries sell good.”

Leslie Harris, a chef who lives nearby, said Alvarez’s 24-hour store, open seven days a week, has helped keep the neighborhood safe, especially back in the 1980s when she first moved in.

“He’s one of the best things in the neighborhood,” she said. “He keeps the whole area very safe at night.” 

A guitar slung over her back, Marilyn Kirby came in loudly singing a “Ray song” she had composed, which she had just had everyone singing along to at the open-mic at Sidewalk Cafe. She had been trying to promote the “Day of Ray!” benefit concert at the cafe, Sixth St. and Avenue A, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m., this Saturday, Feb. 6. 

Twenty-three acts — bands, comedians and more — are on the bill, including Bill Murray Experience, The Fools, Jessica Delfino, Joe Yoga and Elastic No-No Band, to name just a few.

“It will be an East Village amalgamation of musicians of all types,” Kirby said. “We got punks, folk rock, space music...any kind of music you can imagine.”

The benefit may at some point turn into a freewheeling “neighborhood rave,” Kirby said.

All of the $5 cover charge will go to “the cause” — Ray — and so will 15 percent of all food and drink sales. 

If they can get Alvarez to come over — he usually sleeps during the day — one idea is to have people take photos with him for $5 a pop, but they’re trying to find a Polaroid camera.




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