While strolling around Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, in the late 1990s, James and Karla Murray noticed that Katie’s Candy Store, a beloved local institution and their favorite haunt for sugary confections, abruptly closed after their rent tripled. The closure was a tipping point for the husband-and-wife photography team, who were recognizing a shift in the landscape as more of New York’s independent storefronts are imperiled by rising rents. Though many mom-and-pop shops are cornerstones in their community and serve as a compass with their distinct character, friendly patrons, and dazzling signage, they’re disappearing at a breakneck pace. Data is scarce, but the Chamber of Commerce estimates that 65 percent of small businesses fail by their tenth year.
Shortly after Katie’s closed, the Murrays decided to document the city’s vast swaths of independent storefronts, unsure of how long they’d be around. Since publishing their first book in 2008, more than 80 percent of the shops have closed; half have vanished since their follow-up, in 2015. In their latest volume, “Store Front NYC,” they encourage New Yorkers to visit these vanishing businesses and keep them afloat. When these boutiques, butchers, and bakeries are replaced by bland chain stores with uniform branding, the Murrays write in the introduction, “the entire neighborhood is affected” and we all lose. “These shops are lifelines for their communities, vital to the residents who depend on them for a multitude of needs.”