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Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York Hardcover – January 15, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Gingko Press Inc.; 1st edition (January 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1584232277
  • ISBN-13: 978-1584232278
  • Product Dimensions: 12 x 13.1 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #332,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

New York’s storefronts constitute the city’s vernacular architecture, shaping the look and feel of the five boroughs no less than more celebrated elements of the skyline. These unfussy, elegant, and richly colored photographs of butcher shops, bakeries, fabric wholesalers, cuchifritos stands, stationery and sporting-goods stores, laundromats, groceries, and dive bars give connoisseurs of signage, folk typography, and ambient erosion much to pore over. Shops that opened in the nineteen-seventies now look as ancient as those dating back to the twenties. The tone is elegiac as much as it is celebratory; interviews with shop owners make it clear how close to extinction many of them stand, and the photographers report that nearly a third of these businesses have gone under in the time that it took to make the book.
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker


From The New York Times Book Review (April 5, 2009):

For those who think modernization is always a virtue, the demise of these relics may be a good thing. For me, it marks the end of an era of sign painting and storefront innocence. Which is why my eyes widened when I saw James T. Murray and Karla L. Murray s oversize (11 3/4 by 13 1/4 inches) coffee-table book, STORE FRONT: The Disappearing Face of New York (Gingko, $65). The Murrays, authors of two books on graffiti art, Broken Windows and Burning New York, have been photographing storefronts for more than eight years, and in this book they employ large-scale horizontal pages (and a few gatefolds) as they track their odyssey from the Lower East Side to Harlem to the Bronx, from Brooklyn to Queens to Staten Island. If you re at all interested in the passing cityscape, this book is a documentary mother lode; if you re happy to see these joints disappear, it might at least kindle appreciation for them.
The Murrays photographs, however, do not romanticize these not very picturesque locales. The images are bright and crisp, though most of what the authors photographed was dingy and covered with graffiti; quite a few fronts and signs were falling apart or grungy to begin with. Yet it is in this state of decay that the stores hold a curious fascination indeed, a raw beauty for anyone concerned with vernacular design. I was particularly taken with the Lower East Side remnants that are slowly being squeezed out by hip restaurants and shops. Zelig Blumenthal s religious articles store, on Essex Street, appears not to have changed since my grandparents lived nearby. The Hebrew lettering on the window is as clean as it was back then. Meanwhile, at Rabbi M. Eisenbach s shop, the painted signs seem to be fading. Beny s Authorized Sales and Service, which sells fine jewelry, electric shavers, lighters, pens, is not just a throwback; it also exhibits a totally alien aesthetic compared with that of most stores today.
Store Front is not mired in nostalgia. Take the photograph of the (now closed ) Jade Mountain Restaurant, on Second Avenue near 12th Street, where I ate cheap Chinese food as a teenager. It is not a storefront I get misty-eyed seeing again; even the so-called chop-suey-style sign lettering does not make me long for what s lost. But it s part of a larger mosaic that was (and is) New York s retail consumer culture.
The book is also a study of urban migration, featuring Jewish delis and Italian latticini freschi stores downtown, Hispanic bodegas and Irish bars uptown, and a white-bread Howard Johnson s in Midtown (now gone). There are also photos of single blocks, with various contrasting storefronts tightly packed next to one another, that resemble a third-world market. Downtown is much more alluring than uptown but maybe that s because I was raised downtown. --Steven Heller for The New York Times. --The New York Times Book Review

Overly affectionate accounts of days gone by make up an entire genre in America these days, part of the general shift in the past generation from future-focused optimism to nostalgia-laced longing.

You see it in paeans to roadside America, to lost highways and long-forgotten attractions. Most of it is unabashed ode. Rarely, though, do you see an account that zooms in on a chunk of the American landscape what was, what is and the hint of what may be and manages to be both lyrical and documentarian, elegant and decidedly anthropological.

That's exactly what awaits when you crack open "Store Front," which at nearly 7 pounds is a mighty volume that functions as a visual catalog of New York City retail architecture and all the stories behind it. This is an appealing, unmatched tale of individualism and the tapestry of entrepreneurial zeal, all wrapped up in brick, mortar and colorful signage.

The Murrays, authors and photographers, traveled from neighborhood to neighborhood in New York City Manhattan and the outer boroughs alike and set their camera up squarely in front of facades they deemed worthy of chronicling. What emerged is surprising and delightful. Among the storefronts revealed:

_The now-defunct Jade Mountain, a Chinese restaurant open since 1931. It survived three generations of Chans until the latest owner, Reginald Chan, was killed on his bicycle while making a delivery in 2006. His family closed the place months later. In the photo, it remains vibrant, a colorful beacon of Asian-American restaurant architecture.

_Manhattan Furrier, which is not in Manhattan but in Greenpoint, a Brooklyn neighborhood. Looking at it transports you back to the 1940s abruptly and delightfully.

The names go on, as distinctive as the architecture they present to passers-by.

Every page is full of such discoveries in miniature all the businesses that the New York immigrant experience birthed and helped thrive for many decades. "These storefronts have the city's history etched in their facades," the authors write. "They set the pulse, life and texture of their communities."

Americans treasure distinctiveness almost as much as they treasure big-box stores. New York, though, has always been different. Even as standardization marched across the land during the decades after World War II, New York City somehow remained largely immune until the past 15 years or so. The shift happening now makes a book like this not only fascinating but, from an urban preservation perspective, urgent.

The nature of the photographs their aesthetic, their vantage point unites the book and offers a baseline for comparison. Most every storefront is shot straight on, proscenium style, as if it were a stage. So they seen in their entirety, as if you are driving by slowly and can take a lingering look.

This is counterintuitive but effective. Walkers, who make up so much of NYC's texture, encounter their storefronts in fragments, in close-up and at odd angles a more natural way to view them. This pulling back of the lens to a blocked-off rectangle equalizes the facades and makes them more democratic. It's as if each is given an equally fair chance of drawing you in, of capturing your business with original signage or compelling wares.

Taken together these storefronts chronicle so much of modern American commercial culture the emergence of typefaces, the use of neon as a drawing card, the struggle to imbue business graphics with sophistication and then, eventually, with simplicity again.

They tell the story of the 20th century in New York, with wisps of the 19th and hints of the 21st. If you want to understand the aesthetics of the country's most famous city at street level, this is the best way to do it short of actually going there. And even if you're a New Yorker, this will show you the city in an entirely new way. --The Associated Press

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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This book is a nice coffee table item.
S. Panebianco
I LOVE the fact that they featured the Strand Bookstore, one of NYC's definitive treasures and the last store left in "Book Row".
M. Rodriguez
The photos are great and the written descriptions often include interviews with the store owners.
Dave M.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Robin Benson on February 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"Well, it was open last week, I went in and bought something" A familiar thought if you live in a city, large or small, across the Nation and discover that the store that had been there for decades is now closed: probably for good. James and Karla Murray have done us all a favor by capturing, for ever, the changing store front scene in New York. Amazingly, as mentioned in their introduction, almost a third of the stores in the book have closed!

The 220 photos (with some repeated in four huge fold-outs) cover the five boroughs with each getting a simplified street map and the relevant neighborhood indicated, some copy provides background to the name and how the area originated. What gives the book a lift though is the frequent addition of interviews with the storeowners who provide insights about the history of their premises and the products they sell.

All the photos are straight on shots of the store fronts but don't think for a minute that this might be sort of boring because these stores are a kaleidoscope of colorful window displays with products, notices and neon signs, awnings, and an amazing selection of lettering for their names, plus many of them desperately need some renovation and this adds texture to the surrounding building. Photos that are this content rich just don't need any gimmicks or trendy angle shots. The book's large size also adds to their impact (check out the Product Details).

This is a large, chunky, beautifully produced coffee table book (though a shame it wasn't printed with a finer screen than the 175 used). I wouldn't have thought that photos of store fronts would have yielded such a fascinating collection of stunning photos but here they are. A visual treat!

***SEE SOME INSIDE PAGES by clicking 'customer images' under the cover.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By La Ura Loos on April 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
After looking through Store Front, I felt like I was right back in NYC when I lived there over 40 years ago. The hundreds of gorgeous photos of these old mom-and-pop stores brought back memories of my own neighborhood and shopping trips downtown from The Bronx and summer outings to Coney Island. I also enjoyed reading all the interviews with store owners and finding out the "secret" to their survival. I have this massive book on my table and everyone who comes over spends time flipping through it and want to take it home with them. I plan on visiting many of the stores that were highlighted because the photographers kindly gave the exact address of each store in every borough. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever lived in New York, visited New York or just interested in seeing the stores that make NYC the special place that it is.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A WRITER on January 31, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Amazing, enormous book filled with page after page of panorama photos and single mom-and-pop stores. I especially loved the huge fold-outs and reading all the interviews. What else can I say, the book is outstanding and I'll treasure it forever. I've told everyone I know to buy it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Harald Widemann on June 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
During a vacation I saw this book in a shop close to Central Park. Then back in Germany I decided to purchase it. With great interest I read all descriptions about New York and the stores to which the storefronts belong to. With this book I learn more about NY's history than with any other source. This book enriches my personal library
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mel Wittenstein on May 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A beatifully produced walk through the DNA of important New York city commercial businesses, I can't thank the books creators enough. I there enough material for a volume II?
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Janko Puls on February 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Whenever I leave New York for a week or so - the first thing on my return is to walk through my neighborhood in downtown Manhattan and see what's left. The radical pace of changes doesn't slow down. And sometimes I have to make yet another little mark into my copy of "Store Front" when one of these places is gone forever.

The Murrays have done an incredible job on so many levels: They documented and preserved a vital part of New York that is rapidly changing to the worse. While New York always was a place of radical change and fast development, this phase in the early 21st century seems to annihilate the city's past and rip out its soul. The work of Jim and Karla Murray is a most valuable contribution to the city's history. The texts bring each place to life, not only for born and bred New Yorkers, but also for anyone who loves this city and just knows a little bit about it. The voices of the shop owners make the reader connect with the storefronts in an instant. You might laugh or cry about what you read, but I think that the Murrays did set indeed a new standard in urban documentation - because they add so much more.

On another level, Jim & Karla Murray grabbed the beauty and particular culture of storefront lettering - an aesthetic joy in its own - and coming from their interest in graffiti culture, it seems to be quite a natural development. For their follow up title "New York Nights" the Murrays revisit many of these places, just to add the other dimension through nocturnal appearances, bathed in neon and Tungsten lights. Their photographic style seems to be deadpan in the first place - until you start paying attention to more and more details and notice which decisions went into the photographic process.
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