New York is a city of many things: people, ideas, cultures, lifestyles. In many ways, it represents both conglomerate consumerist culture and the dream of small business, for newcomers and for the people who have held small shops there for generations. A new photo book, Store Front II—A History Preserved: The Disappearing Face of New York documents those small shops that help make New York what it is. But many of them are being driven out of business. In an effort to help preserve the memory of those that have closed their doors and shine a light on those still in operation, the book photographs the stores, just as they are.
Store Front II is a follow-up to James and Karla Murray’s first collection, Store Front, which also collected store front images. But since the book’s recent release, 20% of the stores in the book have closed. Two thirds of the 325 businesses photographed there are now gone. “We’re extremely sad about it,” Karla Murray says. The photographers want to preserve what they can of the city’s small-shop culture.
The Murrays have interviewed hundreds of small business owners all around New York City. They say that part of the problem of operating—and maintaining—a mom-and-pop store is rent hikes. “If [stores] pay rent of say, $10,000, and it goes up to $30,000, they’re finished. That’s it,” James says. But there are other reasons stores go out of business, as New York City’s laws and regulations can make it difficult, especially with so little parking available.
Some residents are trying to slow the speed of their favorite stores’ closings. Small organizations and movements like Jeremiah Moss, who writes a blog called “Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York,” and #SaveNYC, chronicle small NY businesses that need help.
But not every small business is about to go under. In fact, the photo book acknowledges that many of the stores are doing very well. Caputo’s Bake Shop, which opened in 1904, are finding ways to cater to a new generation by making seasonal items available every day.
Store Front II is a wonderful look at New York’s vibrant culture, certainly worth a perusal and the conversation that follows.