New York City is forever changing – for better and for worse, in sickness and in health. Lately, there’s been a wave of luxury condos and Subway sandwich shops that have replaced delis and dive bars, that seem to upset everyone. Photographers, James and Karla Murray, set out to document the city’s transformation and the result is a book, titled “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York,” in which they photographed “mom-and-pop” stores around the city. Then they returned to those original locations to see what stands there. “We hope this glimpse will bring awareness to the unique character these small mom-and-pop businesses add to the streets and neighborhoods of New York City and the sense of community they provide.” The Murrays have lived in the East Village for more than 20 years. “These storefronts have the city’s history etched into their facades. We also hope that viewers will frequent small businesses so that they will continue to survive for many more years.” That, I agree with entirely. But having said that, the reality is you sometimes pay more to do so. My local pharmacy is great, but their prices are 25% higher that Walgreens or Duane Reade, so do I buy everything there? No, mostly I fill a prescription or get something special. The reality is that we shop differently that we did 20 years ago.
What is tricky are the layers involved in a story like this. On the surface, you think, “Oh no! These great old storefronts are disappearing to be replaced by hideous new buildings”, and in some cases you’d be right. I live in the West Village and just yesterday, there was a FOR RENT sign in my favorite coffee house/ vegetarian sandwich shop, S’Nice. It seems, their lease is up and the landlord raised the rent, so they are closing. (They’ll keep their Brooklyn outpost) Next door where there was a juice bar, Organic Avenue, is now a real estate office – with $4200 one bedroom apartments for rent. (BTW, Organic Avenue moved to a better location and bigger shop on Hudson, which is even MORE $$ than 8th Ave, I’ll bet.) So, there are many different realities at play – every one is different. In some cases, the store has been empty and disused for years. In others, the business might have been forced out by higher rents, like S’Nice. But what if YOU owned a building that the tenant payed $2000 for the last 20 years and once the lease was up, you could get 10, or even 20 times the rent? Would you honestly say, “No, stay at your old rent. I won’t send my kid to college…” And this cupcake store, “Baked By Melissa”, for all I know, that’s a “mom and pop” shop that people in the neighborhood love. (I DO hope somebody saved that “Optimo” cigar sign, though.) Rizzoli bookstore is a beautiful – you would think – landmarked building on 57th Street, with a fab vaulted interior, but has been facing potential demolition. And now they are moving for sure and FYI, will be having a moving sale through April 11, with all books 40% off. Now this is terrible and I’ll miss that store but the reality is, a. I never bought books from that location (too far uptown) b. Amazon has books 40% practically every day.
But myself, I love these old storefronts architecturally – these new ones seem to be all glass and pretty generic. CBGB sadly closed years ago and John Varvatos, who replaced it, honors the legendary club in his new shop. Bleeker Street, over the years, has morphed into Madison Avenue – you have Marc Jacobs to thank or blame for that. Terrible, right? Well, it brings money into the area, employs a LOT of people and, hey it’s America, the landlords have every right to get top dollar. You’ve heard, Roseland Ballroom is disappearing to be replaced by a new condo tower. That’s really unfortunate. It will be missed. But you think a MAJOR concert venue like that would have been able to negotiate a deal to disassemble their interior and reassemble it in the basement of this new tower. Basements are always cheaper rents. Who knows – maybe they will? Do we really need another Duane Reade, Subway or Chase branch? But probably more people want a Subway sandwich than they do wholesale hosiery. Although, it’s hard to think of anything uglier than a Subway shop – unless it’s a Verizon storefront. So, again, there are nuances here – even though the before and after comparisons seem stark. Anyway, it’s a great project. So, the moral of the story, support your local businesses, lest they disappear. You can get the book onAmazon. (Photos; James and Carla Murray