Two decades ago, as a pair of photographers wandered the streets of New York documenting graffiti on city walls, they started noticing something else: the small mom-and-pop shops on each block were disappearing so quickly that neighborhoods often looked completely different on subsequent visits.
“The whole look and feel of the neighborhood had changed and much of its individuality and charm had gone,” say photographers James and Karla Murray. “We were witnessing first hand the alarming rate at which the shops were disappearing, and decided to preserve what we could of what remained.”
They started photographing their favorite stores, and published a book called Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York in 2008. Now, with even fewer independent stores left–two-thirds of the stores in the book no longer exist–they’ve published a new edition.
When a unique store is replaced by a Starbucks or CVS, a block loses part of its identity. “The neighborhood store has always been a foothold for new immigrants and a comfortable place where familiar languages are spoken, where ethnic foods and culture are present,” say the photographers. “These shops are lifelines for their communities, vital to the residents who depend on them for a multitude of needs. Many of the stores act as ad hoc community centers. When these shops fail, the neighborhood itself is affected.”
Each store in the book–like House of Oldies in Greenwich Village, which has been selling records since 1969, or Morscher’s Pork Store in Ridgewood, Queens, with a hand-drawn sign based on a German fairy tale–is listed with cross streets, in the hopes that readers will visit. “We see our work more as a celebration of the businesses that still exist and we want people to go out and support these stores by shopping at them,” say the Murrays.
Since the first edition of book came out in November 2015, over a fifth of the stores that were photographed are already gone. “For the past few years, it’s been a race against time to find them and document them before they disappear,” they say. “A storefront could literally be here today and gone tomorrow.”