Saving NYC’s Storefront Signage

Two photographers document disappearing small businesses and their signage in the Big Apple.

James and Karla Murray’s artistic and philanthropic foray into the signage industry was accidental; while researching and documenting graffiti mural art around New York City for a book project in the ’90s, the married residents of Manhattan’s East Village started to notice vanishing storefront signage as many small shops began to go out of business, chiefly due to rent increases.

“It was the signage that attracted us to photographing the storefronts,” Karla said. “It was like a work of art, even with how [the shops] arranged their products in the window.” Though their initial interest was aesthetic, the full-time photographers started noticing artist signatures and other parallels between different signs.

What began as an under-wraps passion project has flourished into multiple books – including Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York – and an altruistic Instagram account @jamesandkarla with a following of 13,900. There, the duo conduct an “artistic intervention” to stem the store closures they observed since Store Front was published in 2008.

“We are really trying to help save these small businesses because they are an important part of what makes each neighborhood unique,” Karla said.

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