LOWER EAST SIDE -- The project began quite by accident in the 1990s. Husband-and-wife photography team James and Karla Murray were exploring the streets of New York, documenting graffiti murals before they disappeared. It was during their travels that they began to notice -- and admire -- the vintage mom-and-pop storefronts that still dotted the streets of the city.
Admiration for these street-side retail reliquaries soon turned to alarm when they realized how very quickly they were vanishing. What began as a way to document one ephemeral art form -- graffiti -- morphed into a decades-long undertaking to visually preserve another -- the endangered storefronts of New York.
It was the aesthetics of these places, of course, that first captivated them, James Murray said, but it was only when they stepped inside the stores, and got to know the proprietors, and the stories behind those eye-catching facades, that they truly grasped how significant and overlooked these humble storefronts were.
In the decades since, the couple has published several notable photography books telling the stories of New York's mom-and-pop shops. The books have become important documents testifying to the existence of places that are long gone, along with the people who lovingly labored, often in obscurity, behind those storefronts to serve their neighbors.
In their latest book, "Store Front NYC: Photographs of the City's Independent Shops, Past and Present," the Murrays aim to honor the shops that are no more, but perhaps even more importantly, to celebrate the ones that are still here.
Indeed, more than 50 percent of the shops showcased in this book still exist, and as Karla Murray said, they await your patronage.
"To us, they are everything. I mean, what makes neighborhoods in New York City unique is their mom-and-pop stores. It's not about if a store closes, let's be sad. It's about celebrating the ones that are open," Murray said.
The couple sees what they do as an "artistic intervention."
"It's brought tears to our eyes hearing from different store owners that a single post on our Instagram page or you know, what we highlight on our YouTube channel has made such a difference to their store, bringing in people and helping them through difficult times especially during the pandemic."
In this Localish report, the Murrays share the stories of three of New York's most iconic storefronts, the gorgeous facades of three thriving, family-run businesses: Katz's Delicatessen, Russ and Daughters, and Yonah Schimmel's Knish Bakery. They are easy to visit in one day, all along a few blocks of Houston Street on the Lower East Side.
"Our community did so much for us and brought so much joy and good memories. So we were able to do something good in return," Karla Murray said.