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Photos of New York City Storefronts Taken 10 Years Apart Show Gentrification and Decay

Apr 4, 2014 By Joey

When photographers James and Karla Murray began working on their book, “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York,” they were simply attempting to show photos of the last family-owned businesses remaining in New York City. However, they quickly realized that as soon they were photographing these shops, they were shutting down, only to be replaced by corporate businesses or simply left to fall apart.

Ten years after the initial photos for the book were taken, the Murrays returned to many of these locations to photograph what is in place today, revealing an intriguing and sometimes depressing picture of an ever-changing city…

E 14th St & Union Square W, Union Square

NYC Gentrification - 01

NYC Gentrification - 01 - Version 2

Grand St & Ludlow Street, Lower East Side

NYC Gentrification - 02

NYC Gentrification - 02 - Version 2

2nd Ave & 10th St, East Village

NYC Gentrification - 03

NYC Gentrification - 03 - Version 2


  1. sfish says:

    I mean…sort of? Yes, a lot of it is sad, but how much hosiery would you say the average American goes through in a year these days, compared to the years when those stores opened? I for one am happy to have the option to wear pants or bare legs in summer, instead of a dress and stockings every day of the year for my whole adult life. And yes, the banks are depressing. But you do a disservice to all your readers not to point out that Joe’s Pizza is alive and well and busy as hell about two doors down on Carmine Street from the location in that original photo, and that the 2nd Avenue Deli not only exists, but has added a second location–AND that 339 Grand Street, home of Ideal Hosiery, was granted landmark status by the city last year. Oh, and Gertel’s now wholesales out of Brooklyn; you can find their rugelach at Fairway. Real New Yorkers never say die.

  2. Jesse says:

    Nice photos, but the “last family-owned businesses remaining in New York City”? Sure, nobody wants another Chase bank, but there are still thousands of independently owned restaurants, bodegas, barbers and bageliers in the city. I’ll take cleaner, safer chain stores over the dank crime-ridden horror of mid-century NYC any day.

    1. Doug says:

      You have to be kidding. An struggling artist, musician, dancer, actor, etc.. could afford to live in Manhattan in those mid century days. The place had character, great cheap places to eat, drink and great cheap places to catch music or anything else, Some of the best creative times came from people living on almost nothing but still doing their art. Ya got nothing like that now, they are all trying to find some spot to land out in the boonies now. Hell I shared a railroad apt on 6th between 1st and 2nd and we paid like 230 bucks or so for the whole thing. Everything is about the money now, no artists, no fun, period. Box stores are dead zones. Wealth is frankly boring. Give me some freaking gritty reality from those days over Disney Times Square any time.

      1. Kevin A. Smith says:

        Well put! I couldn’t have said it any better myself. That sanitized mentality has moved up north as well. New Paltz and Woodstock lack the character they had in the 1990’s and before for the same reason.

    2. david says:

      wait, chain stores are ‘cleaner’ and ‘safer.’ really. and to think that at election time, your vote counts the same as mine.

  3. Rachel says:

    Some of these are pretty depressing, but as a successful business started up by a local woman, Baked By Melissa makes me a lot happier than another Chase bank or Subway location ….

    1. david says:

      i suppose but at the end of the day it’s just some sterile, new new york bourgeois, professionally stylized gentrification nonsense. the business lacks any… ‘human texture’ (my phrase). yay fifty dollar cupcakes

  4. Andrew says:

    Different, not sad.

    The Ralph’s Facade looks to have been brought back to its original ornamental design, GROM is a great gelato and a welcome addition, but the 2nd Avenue Deli was a culinary and cultural landmark and its replacement by a bank is not even needed.

    New Yorkers are lucky in having enough of an economy to support any business. Detroit looks in envy upon your situation.

    1. Sara says:

      ALl is not lost. The 2nd Ave deli was reincarnated by the nephews of the original owners. It is now on 3rd avenue and 33rd but is still called the 2nd Ave deli.

  5. brian says:

    This is not very convincing – depressing? not quite – there are countless independent shops opening every day and New York is a progressive city that welcomes change. I find the whole idea that it is “sad/depressing” when neighborhoods evolve and grow to be incredibly junevile.

    1. Joey White says:

      The post says the series reveals “an intriguing and sometimes depressing picture” of the city. I would call what stands at the site of the former fish market at Lenox Ave & W 131st St in Harlem depressing. I would call the replacement of the barber shop with a food shop at E 116th St & 1st Ave in Harlem intriguing. The photo series shows a wide range of changes and I think that was represented in the post.

  6. rsmithing says:

    CBGB to John Varvatos seems truly heartbreaking at first glance, but at least the store acknowledges its heritage with flyers and graffiti still intact on the inside. You can argue either for or against, but supply and demand will always win the day. There are probably many typewriter repair shops and hat maker storefronts that have become a dozen things since their prime.

    1. david says:

      the older aesthetics are generally better as they are closer to the human touch and further away from the corporate sterility we are trapped with today.

  7. Miss Understood says:

    To all the commenters who are pointing out the fact that there are still independent businesses: Yes, there are, but the numbers are shrinking every year. The rents are so high that it’s almost impossible to start something without corporate backing. I suspect a lot of you haven’t been here long enough to really wrap your mind around what’s happened. I think the root of the problem is that there are no regulations at all to protect small businesses form extreme rent hikes. You can spend years developing your business and building a clientele only to have your rent tripled all at once.

  8. azim says:

    Maybe NYC will no longer have its bohemian art scene anymore as rents are being increased across the city. San Fransisco is seeing the same effect. Soon we will have only Starbucks, Gap & Victoria Secrets everywhere. New cities where people can afford to experiment & live on less will come to life & they will become the NYC & SF of tomorrow. The arts & indies will move there. Cities like Detroit need to seize this as an opportunity.

  9. Elizabeth Ann says:

    I used to shop in some of these places. Half of them are in the neighborhood I grew up in. So sad. Brings me back. :)

  10. Jason says:

    Some of these represent heartbreaking losses for the city, like CBGBs and 2nd Avenue Deli—particularly when they’re replaced by yet another Chase bank. Others, though, represent marked improvements in my mind, like Baked by Melissa where a Cigar store once stood. Let’s engage in a debate about protecting urban treasures. But let’s not start equating any sort of change with decay.

    1. Joey White says:

      While many of these photos, as we pointed out in the description, are examples of changes are simply intriguing and have nothing to do with decay, others, such as Lenox Lounge or Lenox Ave & W 131st St in Harlem, are certainly cases where decay in the buildings and storefronts is obvious. I think the photographers’ intent was simply to document the changes in these buildings, which have come in all shapes and sizes.

      1. Adrift says:

        Then the article’s title is misleading, isn’t it? You specifically mentioned gentrification and decay, both which carry negative connotations.

        1. Joey White says:

          In my comment, I was responding specifically to Jason’s assertion that all changes were being associated with decay. I don’t think that was the case. As for the title, I don’t think it’s misleading at all. Many of these changes are the effects of gentrification, others are examples of decay. Of course, others, as some people have noted, are arguably an aesthetic improvement over what was there before (including — again, arguably — examples of gentrification). But there were only so many nuances we could fit into the title itself, in which case we hope the description helps offer more relevant details.

    2. david says:

      since you think that the store with the optimo sign is a cigar store, you are clearly a clueless transplant and a fake new yorker and your opinion is not relevant. if you live in nyc, it’s a shame that you are here. i’m not surprised someone like you thinks that bakery is an improvement. go enjoy your adolescent six dollar pastry, man-child

  11. Barboy says:

    I miss the people that once lived on the island of manhattan, and they all left 30 years ago. CBGBs was a T shirt store and pizza parlor that was stiffing its homeless services landlord on the rent. I miss Joey Ramone, not CBGBs

  12. chris sullivan says:

    I loved New York because of those stores shot 10 years ago in that they reflected the diversity and vibrancy of the city. I visited again recently and found the city a dull as dry doughnut (and a corporate one at that ) the character having been ripped out by big bucks .I live in London and the same is happening here. Individual and unique traders should be protected as they are the soul of a neighborhood (whereas conglomerates are the opposite) and it is why the likes of me travel to New York . Why should we go to a city that looks the same as everywhere else ?

  13. Lorah says:

    No wonder I feel so outta place when I venture back to my old Eastside haunts. The old mom and pop fabric stores, pastry shops, Italian import stores, herb shops etc replaced by ugh, Subways, Chase and others. sure there are still new local owned small shops and businesses but nothing like it was in the 70’s and 80’s and I am in agreement with those who say Manhattan has lost much of it’s flavor.

  14. Ian says:

    I don’t think it’s sad at all.

    And let’s take a step back for a second before we let the whole anti-corporate bandwagon take charge. Some of those businesses that actually were successful LIKE 2nd Avenue Deli were NOT kicked out by big businesses – they actually just relocated elsewhere. I hate it when journalists try to manipulate people with these sneaky spins.

    Now, to be perfectly honest, as much as I love the city, it is a giant rat-hole. The subways are so dirty and almost 3rd world developed, you get a whiff of sewage every few steps you take, there are creepy people everywhere you go – it needs to be spruced up. If big business are willing to do it than so be it.

    I think it looks a lot nicer if you ask me. Just about how many people out there read magazines in a cigarette shop – and just about how many people out there need hosiery from a ratty old place like the one displayed in the picture? You might all complain about all these buildings going down, but how much time do YOU actually spend going to these places and buying only these products?

    Fact of the matter is, if these businesses can’t stay competitive with some unique product that people need, why would you waste your efforts in trying to create some artificial demand for these places? These storefronts are becoming an eyesore to be honest. If there’s no demand for the products that they have, then they should just pursue other ventures. NYC – and just about a lot of cities in America for that matter – have some image problems that need to be tended to. It’s good to protect history, but historical preservationists have been overdoing lately – trying to save every last stupid brick. It’s time that some of these pack-rats learn that there’s a time to just let some things go. We had our chance to enjoy these charming little businesses, now let’s some of them take their leave with a good image left in our memories without letting them become that festering little entity that never seems to go away even though its time has come.

  15. Ian says:

    My second point which kind of got diluted in the rant:

    Though it may be hard to say goodbye to old souls, there will always be new souls that will come into replace them. These new souls don’t necessarily have to be big business.Yeah, a lot of the time big businesses do take over some of these spots, but a lot of these lots are also being taken over by start-ups. I support progress.

    1. Stewart says:

      Clean and shiny is not always progress, nor is sweeter smelling subways. That New Yorkers come to value such superficialities over authenticity is the true loss this city is facing.

      1. EB says:

        I’m so tired of “authenticity” being bandied about all the time when things change from how they want things to be. Dirty and dull is not always authentic, nor is stinkier smelling subways.

  16. REALNYC says:

    Sad…NYC is now officially lost all its excitement, edge and appeal. With every closing of a local owned business, a faceless corporate building goes up. Im just glad I got to experience the REAL NYC before it was too late.

  17. Joan Rojas says:

    I miss the old New York! Yes, I understand progress and change but the special flavor and ambiance that was NY is going to disappear. I am an old time NYer and I think it sucks.

  18. jojo says:

    nothing wrong with trying to fix a place up, but it sucks to see so many cool and unique looking store fronts turned into the usual boring yuppie chain stores and banks. the same thing is happening in pittsburgh and the big businesses ARE doing everything they can to get the smaller places out. having liquor licenses revoked, fined etc. and driving up the prices of the rentals that have been there forever so that they can no longer afford them

  19. Michael says:

    Complaining about things not being beat up and crappy enough to make them “real”. First world problems, man.

  20. Irwin Bernstein says:

    What happened to the original Schmulka Bernstein’s or Bernstein on Essex the originator of kosher chinese foods? Other wise u did a great job.

  21. Thee Andikrist says:

    Manhattan is the becoming the clean and shiny tourist oriented jewel of NYC. Every oil princeling and overpriveledged
    hipster HAS to have an apartment there. There’s some affordable places in Bushwick…

  22. Kathy P. says:

    I used to work in Louisville, Kentucky. When I went “downtown” several years ago on a trip home , I was devastated. The Stewart’s Fourth Avenue department store where I had worked had been broken up into an office building and banks and coffee shops. In fact, on all of Fourth Avenue, the only thing that seemed to be the same was a Walgreens drug store. I suppose it’s gone now, too…

  23. TruthX2 says:

    I lived in NYC in the late 1970s & 80s. It was the pits. Full of bums and filth. It’s much better today. The people are nicer and there’s still plenty of character to the city. Things change everywhere. NYC is no different. Hell’s Kitchen was awful 40 years ago. It’s quite nice now. That’s a big change for the better.

  24. Mat Ray Von says:

    I’m sure way back in the day plenty of people in NY and everywhere else were sorry to see the “covered wagon maker”, or “pantaloon store” go out of business as well.

  25. Dave says:

    I am not sure what is so depressing about this. I don’t like to see a bank or big box store in place of a mom and pop store any more than the next person. But NYC is the financial capital of the world and so if you want to make it you need to compete. I have lived in NYC for 10 years, but in my mind clean and new usually is better than old and grimy. Sorry to all the artists out there but I never totally understood why gentrification is a bad thing.

  26. Bill says:

    I was born in the ling gone Leroy Hospital in Hell’s Kitchen in 1952. I’ve watched Manhattan change again and again–and it will always do so. The flavors represent the trends–and these, too, change with time. Too bad landlords want to cash in. Too bad the unique flavors are disappearing and being replaced by Starbucks. I miss the city of the 50s, the New York of the 60s, the Village of the 70s, and not much post Giuliani. It’s someone else’s place now. Have fun.

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