Dynamic Store Fronts

Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, James T. and Karla L. Murray, Gingko Press.

A good portion of the stores pictured in “Store Front” are already out of business, which tells you how fast New York City’s vintage retail establishments are disappearing. For those readers who miss the distinctive old haunts, this new coffee table book serves as a trip down memory lane, as it’s filled with extra-large photographs of well-worn luncheonettes, candy stores, smoke shops and the like. And for those who don’t respond to twentieth century restaurant & retail architecture? They now have a golden opportunity to gain a better appreciation for these mostly grungy locales, which until relatively recently had resisted the encroachment of chain stores and specialty shops.

Though the overwhelming majority of the book is devoted to Manhattan and Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island are also well-represented. Most every establishment is photographed straight-on, hardly a typical point of view, but one that enables the viewer to consider each store front from a uniform perspective. This approach is effective, largely because the stores on display are as colorful and diverse as their proprietors. Explaining what it takes to communicate with the clientele of Katy’s Candy Store (Brooklyn), highly quotable owner Katy Keyzer says, “I speak English, Spanish and motherf***er.” That’s not something you’re likely to hear from the operator of a Starbucks or Duane Reed, who has probably assumed the persona of his or her franchise, thereby becoming a victim of twenty-first century standardization.