Tuesday, March 25, 2014

NYC Before & After

James and Karla Murray, the photographers who brought us the wonderful book Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, have been quietly working on an exciting new project.

One by one, they are revisiting all the store fronts they photographed a decade ago and taking new pictures. In the process, they're creating a dramatic and often heartbreaking visual representation of hyper-gentrification. In just about a decade, much of the city's streetscape has changed significantly, shifting in two general directions -- to upscale businesses and condos, or to chain stores and banks. It's a startling view of the city before and after Bloomberg.

I asked the Murrays a few questions about their "before and after" project.

all photos James & Karla Murray: see more here

What inspired you to embark on this project?

We embarked on the before-and-after project when over 10 years had passed since we had initially started photographing the mom-and-pop stores, an amount of time which really started to bring into focus the loss of character and decreased sense of community the neighborhoods undergoing these changes had.

While finishing our Store Front book in 2008, we chose the front and back cover photos expressly because those businesses had been forced to close. Ralph’s Discount City in TriBeCa was forced to close in 2007 when the building began plans for conversion into a luxury condo. Katy’s Candy Store in Bed-Stuy also closed in 2007 after the owner planned to convert the building into luxury apartments, which sadly never happened after the economic downturn, and the retail space remains vacant today. Zito & Sons Bakery on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village closed in 2004 and the tiny storefront remained vacant for years.

As you're going through this project, what trends are you seeing in terms of changes?

The trend we noticed very early on while photographing the original stores was that if the owner did not own the building, their business was in jeopardy of closing. The owners frequently acknowledged that they were at the mercy of their landlords and the ever-increasing rents they charged.

Due to the commonality of high rent increases starting in the early 2000s, after the small business was forced to close, it was often replaced by a chain-type store or banking institution, which could afford the higher rent, or the whole building was converted into a luxury condo. If the location was too small, or the locale was deemed undesirable by a chain-type store, the space often remained vacant, sometimes for years.

What have been the most startling changes you've seen? What changes -- or non-changes -- have you been pleased to see?

When the original 2nd Avenue Deli in the East Village closed in 2006 after the rent was increased from $24,000 a month to $33,000 a month, and a Chase Bank took over the space, we knew the contrast of before and after was severe.

Another startling change in the East Village was the closure of CBGB in 2006 after it lost its lease. It was replaced by a high-end fashion boutique, John Varvatos, which initially to us seemed out-of-place on the Bowery.

No iconic locale seemed safe any longer. Just like with CBGB’s, we were shocked when Lenox Lounge in Harlem closed on December 31, 2012, after a lease dispute. The East Village’s Mars Bar closed in 2011, was torn down, and replaced by a luxury condo with a soon-to-be-opened TD Bank on the ground floor space.

We are happy to see that in certain instances, a small business is replaced by a new small business, but it doesn’t seem to happen as often as we would like. A good example of this is E. Kurowycky & Sons Meat Market in the East Village, which closed in 2007 and was replaced by Kim’s Video.

Looking at the before and after images side by side, what does this lead you to conclude about change in the city as a whole over the past 10 - 15 years?

The purpose of the photos in the before-and-after project is to clearly spell out and provide documentation of not only what storefronts have been lost, but also what is often lacking in the commercial space’s replacement. Until you place them side-by-side and really look at the two photos, you cannot get the true sense of loss experienced by the neighborhood.

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.

See Also:

Master List of Vanishings
Meatpacking Before & After


Anonymous said...

The city just seems so boring now that franchises took over Manhattan. With big franchises come the culture of those companies, robots who work in retail. Yes they help the economy jobs etc, blah blah blah but that's not the point of this discussion.

The "Mom & Pop" places had a unique character.

Another problem we are now facing is the wannabe Mom & Pop shops. Investor owned restaurants & bars run by bankers who pretend to be Mom & Pop (Brooklyn) who market to "Hipsters" with big bank accounts.

The city will never be the same, it's a new thing now. It's not New York anymore, it's an international franchise. If that makes any sense.

historyglass said...

The new New York is for the generation that doesn't care about anything that's not on a screen in front of their faces. Do you ever stop to watch the hoards of twenty somethings on the street? Do you think they ever looked up and noticed the intricate terracotta frieze above them? Ask them, the response would be, "What's terraccota,is that the new Tapas bar in Chelsea?"

Rob the Treehumper said...

We are the makers of our own despair. The reality is that mom & pops aren't able to make it as they once did. Those hipsters are the product of their parents upbringing so, if they don't know what terracotta is who should be held in contempt? What did we instill in our children with a perpetual supplying of the latest electronics? When we buy into these slick glass facades we are in effect saying to architects and designers, yes that is the way to go? I love the old, intricate buildings and facades. When I'm out with my kids I point them out and describe their beauty and get them to think what's behind that, why was that particular face or animal or motif used?

My grandparents' barber shop and the groceteria across the street are gone from their neighborhood but that is the result of the market not some insidious corporate agenda. They retired and the next generation didn't see any value in continuing. Next time choose the small cafe over Starbucks, or buy out that small corner store instead of letting it fall of the map only to be replaced by a bank.

Unknown said...

the "buy out that small corner store" advice is remarkably condescending to those of us who don't have the resources to get into a bidding war against Chase or TD Bank. perhaps, Rob, if you have a spare $750K or so in the seat cushions, you could take that advice.

the thing that really strikes me, as much or more than the corporatization of NYC, is the actual desire -- across the board -- for uniformity. even those who don't want a bank on every corner seem to want exactly the same things on every block. wine bar? check. vegan bakery? check. sushi? gotcha.

not all that long ago, neighborhoods could be differentiated from each other. there were differences between orchard street and columbus avenue. there was a garment district, a flower district, an electronics district, a strip of book stores. now there are frat boy bars and tasting menus. nothing else. it's indianapolis with attitude -- and that attitude is misplaced.

laura r. said...

its all about banks, yogart, frat bars, how interesting.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

The Murrays are wonderful photographers and I'm really glad you featured them here.

The storefront project is heartbreaking. The old signs alone are pieces of art, examples of creative craftsmanship that is quickly disappearing. Everything now is mass-produced with no relation to the neighborhoods in which they exist. When will it stop? Will it ever stop?

Anonymous said...

Welcome to Generica!

Our corporate mission statement is wipe the slate clean of all traces of character, charm and historic value from neighborhoods, thereby creating a menu of chain stores and restaurants.

Remember if you want something different, please stay home.

onemorefoldedsunset said...

I love the Murray's work. This is an important project, but so sad. I took a walk through yesterday from home to downtown Brooklyn, and block after block, empty lot after store window, warehouse after laundromat after multifamily, AVAILABLE in big fat letters. Every square foot ripe for the taking.

Anonymous said...

"Soylent Green is made of people." That's where NYC is headed.

Anonymous said...

Our real estate tax laws subsidize landlords to close Mom and Pop Shops. Once evicted, they write off the lost commercial rent at market rate for a tax reduction. They do so until they get a higher paying lease.

Commercial Rent Control is a political smokescreen. We need real estate tax reform to limit the write-off to the current level. Why should the public lose tax revenue to socialize real estate risk while we lose our local businesses?

losta said...

Almost every corner in Midtown New York City is a bank or a drugstore chain and it's spreading outward. Everything is becoming the same.

PeconicPuffin said...

What is the business reason for the banks opening branch after branch? There's less need for brick and mortar bank branches than ever, but they keep opening new spaces, staffing them etc. They can't be profitable.

Ignatz said...

We have a new mayor. Priority one should be a demand to bring back reasonable rents, and to use zoning to limit the size of new stores. That will fix a great deal of the problem. Bloomberg allowed rent to skyrocket and got rid of many zoning restrictions.

If the rent is $60,000 a month, you are saying "Your neighborhood cannot have a pizza place, or a deli, or a local convenience store." Because it's impossible to sell enough pizza to pay a $60,000 rent. That's why ALL the intersection are banks and giant chain drug stores. No one else can afford the lease.

DrBOP said...

Rob.....NOT about market forces, THAT quaint notion died an ugly death back in the 60s/70s....it's about the last THREE generations being told over and OVER again by seemingly EVERYbody since RayGun that 10% profit margin isn't enough.....50% profit margin is better, but STILL NOT enough......100% profit margin is getting there......200% profit margin.....NOWWW you're talkin'....

....AND let's screw UP the culture while were at it....."what, me worry? I don't live within miles of these struggling cretins....fuck'em, I'm GOIN' FOR THE GOLD....."

AND we're gonna MAKE SURE that you have NO RECOURSE.....there is NO alternative.....you WILL be trickled on.....either BEND OVER, or GET OUT....



LOVELY fuckin' way to run a world.

ethan pettit said...

"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."

This maudlin sentiment I'm afraid overlooks the fact that our society does not value and never has valued the work and drudgery that goes into running a "mom-and-pop" as you call it.

You can be sure the artists, intellectuals, nostalgic bohemians, proto-yuppies and so on who are forever and in saccharine and unctuous tones singing the praises of these old neighborhood storefronts and bars, privately always considered the labor that went into these small businesses to be of a lower order than their own labor, whatever that was.

These salami shops and dive bars provided you with your authenticity and your street cred. You returned the favor with your own creative or intellectual labor that was tacitly acknowledged as being of a higher order than the labor of some guy who spends his whole life cutting salami or pulling pints for drunks.

Well, now those mom-and-pops are gone, and with them the substrate of a unique New York life. Our experience of the city is impoverished. Guiseppi died, his son went to law school, and the store is now a Chase branch.

Boo hoo.

But we should fess up to the fact that a large part of the crocodile tears that are shed over the loss of the old mom-and-pop stores, are shed for the loss of a system of bohemian class patronage in which struggling artists and wannabes of one kind or another could booste their own self-esteem by dint of their proximity to some semi-literate immigrant who fed them salami.

Guiseppi was charming, he was "the real thing," you had a great relationship with him. I'm sure. After all, he was stoopit and you were the next Julian Schnable. Those relationships are always comforting.

By contrast, the former commodities broker who wears an apron and serves you a "traditional" egg cream soda for $12 in Cobble Hill today, is not nearly as much fun. He is part of a new generation of Brooklyn hipsters who have invented the "artisanal" mom-and-pop. A "nouveux" mom-and-pop serving gentrified neighborhoods starved for something unique, something neighborly, personal, hand-made, something that is not a franchise. Something, in other words, that gives "unique character" to a neighborhood.

This they do. And yet our relationship to the nouveaux, grass-fed, gluton-free, home-brewed "mom-and-pops" of gentrified Brooklyn and lower Manhattan ... is not comforting. Rather, it is somewhat discomforting. And this is because we no longer have the implied class advantage that we had with those quaint little working class businesses of old New York.

Boo hoo again.

But of course, the most strking difference between the old owner-run businesses and the new ones is the extra zero on your receipt. The hipster entrepreneur has discovered and unlocked the real value of the labor that goes into a business that imparts "unique character" to a neighborhood.

Had Guiseppi understood as much, he might have gotten some real respect.

randall said...

@ Ethan Petit

Great PhD dissertation, but off the mark, I'd say.

I don't think that the pining going on for an older time and way comes from a loss of perceived bohemian class patronage; it's more entrenched and complex than even that. I would say in part it comes from a loss of real human level social interaction and the loss of the notion that, in the words of Harper Lee, folks are just folks.

Now, it seems that everything and everyone has to be extraordinary and amazing and everything has to be curated and have some story attached to it so that it can be marketed and sold in the case of the "nouveaux, grass-fed, gluton-free, home-brewed "mom-and-pops" of gentrified Brooklyn and lower Manhattan" or on the other end, it's stores and entities designed to maximize corporate profit at the expense of the people that work for them and who patronize them.

Either way, whether you being sold a 12 dollar egg cream from some blow hard former commodities trader or a pack of rubbers from a clerk in duane reade, what is gone is the just the regular experience of a world where someone could earn a living simply fixing shoes or running a pharmacy, without the notion that somehow the thing that made places like that attractive is because one felt some sort of superiority over the people working in or owning such places.

I think that some people just want to go about their business without having to necessarily buy into the ultra gentrification or corporatization of NYC. But it seems like places where someone can do just that are becoming rarer and rarer.

sprp said...

You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building. Damage has been done to your city. You say, ''It happened overnight.'' But of course it didn't. Your pizza parlor, his shoeshine stand, her hat store: when they were here, we neglected them. For all you know, the place closed down moments after the last time you walked out the door. (Ten months ago? Six years? Fifteen? You can't remember, can you?) And there have been five stores in that spot before the travel agency. Five different neighborhoods coming and going between then and now, other people's other cities. Or 15, 25, 100 neighborhoods. Thousands of people pass that storefront every day, each one haunting the streets of his or her own New York, not one of them seeing the same thing.”
― Colson Whitehead, The Colossus of New York

Nothing new in our fair city- just centuries of change- sometimes for the worse, but hopefully not always

Anonymous said...

The bank branches on corners are basically huge BILLBOARDS, neon signx that establish a presence for a business now conducted mostly electronically. Economically , it's advertising. Simple as that!!

Anonymous said...

Hey Ethan?

Why aren't you using your Chooch from Bohemian Magic Show handle? You effin Brooklyn-ruining yup. Remember - you can write books about how you "see" Brooklyn - but in the end, we all hate your effin guts.

laura r. said...

sprp, we do support the small businesses. but practical everyday life cannot support those rents. you need to move 1000s of frozen yogarts per day, w/crowds of people. the only inventory you need is the machine, the blocks of frozen poison, some cups/sprinkes & youre all set. since there are several 100 of the same chain around the US, some of these can be write offs. look @ the lines during wkends. its fast turnover. i rarely visit large chains, & never box stores.

Anonymous said...

Some of these are misleading, though. The 2nd Avenue deli closed only because the family patriarch was murdered right in front of the place (they actually moved by their own accord). The Pizza spot in the 4th picture just moved two doors down, and is still very much in business, and as for CBs...well, when was the last time anyone went there before it closed?

C. Balfour-Traill said...

It's not just NYC, it's not just the U.S. I see a trend toward presenting an image that's very homogeneous, unremarkable, and characterless, even in the virtual community of Facebook, where some people will delete the comments of their "friends" if they conflict with the hip (or whatever) image they want to convey. The same chain shops and restaurants cover the globe, not just New York street corners. Much of a muchness. Deadly boring.

Anonymous said...

Move elsewhere and make a new NYC. You can't be libertarian and protectionist at the same time. If you want commie Deblahsio to take 90% of your money to protect "old NY"... offer it up. Not that he won't take it anyway. Sheesh.

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