East Harlem residents are mourning the loss of a longtime business owner and the store he ran for more than 30 years, something that signals yet another big shift in a neighborhood that's being transformed by forces of gentrification. NY1's Michael Scotto filed the following report.
Jorge Vargas was not only a legend in East Harlem, he was the father of four daughters devastated by his death last month.
"You feel like you have all this time with your parents. You forget that, you know, they're humans. They're your superheroes every day," said Jeanabel Vargas, Jorge Vargas' daughter. "And it's hard for us. It's really, really hard for us because he was just an amazing father."
Vargas was also beloved by his neighbors for owning Justo Botanica, a store on Lexington Avenue that was started by his father some 80 years ago, when botanicas were fairly common in East Harlem.
For generations, customers would come in for religious objects, herbal medications and spiritual readings.
But with times now much different than they were during the store's heyday, Vargas' daughters decided it was best that the store die with their beloved dad.
Vargas' customers and friends remembered him as one-of-a-kind.
"He was one cool cat. That he was. Very friendly," said Johnny Cruz, a friend of Vargas. "He had a lot of powers, special powers. He knew people. He knew how to determine what people were very good people."
"He was a very nice person," said Sandriedy Cevollero, a customer at Justo Botanica. "He helped everybody. When we come here with a problem, my child is sick, he gave me medicine, you know, natural."
The closure of this botanica represents more than just the end of a longtime business. It also further illustrates how much this neighborhood has changed over the last several years.
Those changes forced Vargas to move his shop a few years ago, after his old landlord kicked him out to make way for a 7-Eleven.
Across the neighborhood, the same forces are at work, with old businesses closing and new buildings going up.
"It's difficult. I don't particularly like it," said Juan Nuñez, a friend of Vargas. "It feels bad. Things are changing. But it's happening practically everywhere in the city."
A funeral for Vargas will be held on Friday. It will include a procession that will bring him by his store one last time.