One of the weirdest, most stubborn mercantile conundrums in New York City is finally showing some signs of life. After ten long years of standing dormant at the otherwise busy corner of Henry and Sackett Streets, the Vermont Market and Pharmacy was buzzing with life Saturday, May 30. The front door was open for the first time since the Clinton Administration, people were moving in and out, and piles of dusty junk were being removed from the interior.
A little history first: The Vermont Market and Pharmacy, a folksy store that sold apple butter, maple syrup, organic products and such stuff, opened for business in 1996. A couple years later it closed, and that was that. No new store moved in, and the counters and shelving and merchandise inside just sat there, gathering cobwebs. The mystery grew so big that the New York Times dispatched a reporter a year ago to dig up the back story. The paper found out that the store and building's owner, Mark Stein, is a bit of a recluse who walks in the the street, and comes and goes during the night; that his father bought the building from some gun-runners; and that he was either unable or unwilling to let go of the property, even though he wasn't doing anything with it himself.
He told the Times he was thinking of opening the store back up, but was vague about his plans.
Well that plan seems to be underway now. I stopped and spoke to one of the young men working to clean out the space. He said the place was going to reopen soon as a kind of half-store, half-soda fountain. They would serve old-fashioned fountain-type sodas "using local, natural flavorings," egg creams, a variety of "tinctures" and teas. There is to be a kind of informal opening in late June, even though things would not be fully up and running by then.
As for Stein, the man said they had leased the space from him, but were kind of vague on whether he was or was not involved in the whole project. Whatever the nature of the enterprise, it sure seems to be happening in a hurry. I hope it really is a soda fountain. I could use a steady place to get a malted.