New York City’s Transforming Storefront Facades

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Photo: James and Karla Murray, via Facebook

Change doesn’t have to be dramatic.  The creep of rising rents and shifts in demographics of a neighborhood can alter the fabric of the city as much as a wrecking ball and zoning laws.  One of the most noticeable examples can be seen when a Chase Bank, Rite Aid or Starbucks takes over a storefront commercial area previously held by a local vendor.

When this happens much more than the goods offered inside become homogenized and safe.  Often the façade and feel of the building gets smoothed out as well, the rough edges rounded off into nice, palatable shapes and forms.  The new architecture lends a clean layer of respectability to the stores, no need to question the quality of the coffee at a local shop, Starbucks serves the same cup from the mall down the street to every corner on Manhattan.  Not only that they make sure all the shops look pretty much the same as well. Storefront_2

315 Bowery Street, New York City, NYPhoto: James and Karla Murray, via Facebook

Beginning in the early 2000’s the photographers James and Karla Murray chose to document the disappearing storefronts around New York City. The duo wanted to capture the idiosyncratic and iconic nature of the facades in and around Manhattan before they disappeared for good.  The images were shot between 2004-2007, collected and published in 2008 in a book titled “Store Front – The Disappearing Face of New York”.

Recently the pair picked up the project again,  returning to the storefronts they shot ten years ago,  and photographing them once more.  The difference in the photographs shows the change that has occurred throughout New York, with unique facades giving way to corporate symbols and generic buildings.  At times it can be tough to tell the difference between Manhattan and the Midwest, the same stores with the same architecture can be found in both locales.

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Photo: James and Karla Murray, via Facebook

In an urban area with some of the fastest rising rents in the world it is particularly telling to see a high end fashion designer grab at some rock and roll credibility by occupying the same physical space where punk rock was invented.  Instead of the Ramones skulking around in white t shirts skin tight jeans and leather jackets there are consumers waiting to buy the latest version of this look propagated by John Varvatos.  Venerable neighborhood institutions such as the 2nd Avenue Deli, a restaurant that defined and fed generations of inhabitants in the Lower East Side, have also been pushed out by landlords wanting to raise rents.  In the case of the deli rents were raised astronomically, making room for another bank.Storefront_1

Corner of 2nd Avenue and East 10th Street, New York City, NY. Photo: James and Karla Murray, via Facebook

The change is neither inherently good or bad, gentrification has occurred in cities since the time of the Romans.  However the images produced by Karla and James Murray give us a chance to see what kind of city we’d rather live in, the New York of ten years ago, or the New York of now.

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