Ten years ago, photographers James and Karla Murray went out onto the streets of New York City to document the beautiful and unique storefronts that, for the better part of the last century, have been the defining face of New York. What they didn’t realise at the time was that they were documenting the end of an era.
After more than a decade under Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s guiding hand, Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs have seen a dramatic change as Bloomberg’s policies championed new development through tax incentives and changes to zoning codes. The rezoning laws have allowed for luxury apartment high-rises in hot spots like Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and the East Village. Since Bloomberg took office in 2001, more than 40,000 buildings have risen in the five boroughs.
The casualties of that effort have been the “Mum & Pop” businesses that used to define the neighborhoods that they were in. According to the Murrays, many of these businesses, like Mars Bar and CBGB, closed due to skyrocketing rents.
The Murrays recently went back to the storefronts they photographed a decade ago to see what has survived and what hasn’t. They were struck by what they found. Nearly two-thirds of the stores they photographed the first time around were no longer there.
James and Karla Murray shared some of the photos from the project with us here, but you can check out more at their website and blog. The original photographs of the storefronts were collected in the book, “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York.”
When the Murrays began photographing the storefronts ten years ago, they interviewed the store owners about their businesses. Many told them then that they feared losing their businesses due to rent increases.
James and Karla Murray
Often landlords pushed out businesses in hopes of converting to condos. Sometimes, those plans never materialised, leaving storefronts simply vacant.
The East Village’s Mars Bar closed in 2011. It was torn down and replaced by a luxury condo with a soon-to-be-opened TD Bank on the ground floor.
The original 2nd Avenue Deli location in the East Village closed in 2006 after the rent increased from $US24,000 a month to $US33,000 a month.
Most of the small business owners were pushed out when it came time to renew their leases. The businesses that have survived did so because they already owned their buildings.
Another issue is that high apartment rents have pushed out many of the neighbourhood’s original residents, killing the businesses’ loyal customer bases.
Lenox Lounge in Harlem closed on December 31, 2012 after a lease dispute.
CBGB in the East Village closed in 2006 after the building owners claimed the music club owed $US91,000 in back rent. A John Varvatos store has since taken over the space.
Ralph’s Discount City in TriBeCa was forced to close in 2007 when the building began plans for conversion into a luxury condo.
The Murrays say that the closing of the businesses picked up speed with the recession in 2007.
Max Fish, the iconic Lower East Side art bar, closed in July 2013 after a rent increase. At the time of the closing, the rent was at $US16,000 a month and was due to increase again. A new Brooklyn location is in the works.
The Murrays say the biggest issue is that the new stores don’t necessarily have any connection to the neighbourhood or its inhabitants. “There’s a loss of character to the neighbourhood,” says Karla Murray.
The new stores are typical chain clothing and electronics stores, banks, and pharmacies. Even these stores don’t always do well.
Joe’s Pizza was forced to close its East Village location when it was subject to a rent hike from $US900 a month to nearly $US15,000 a month. The pizzeria has since reopened in a new location on 14th street.
McHale’s Bar was a mainstay of Times Square for 62 years, before the building’s landlord pushed out the bar to make way for the Platinum NYC condo tower.
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