Over on the left? That's CBGB, the legendary music club at 315 Bowery that helped launch the punk and new wave scenes in New York, giving important early gigs to bands like The Ramones, Misfits, Television, Patti Smith, The Police, Talking Heads and many, many more. The photo on the right shows what you'd see if you went to 315 Bowery today: a boutique of the men's fashion designer John Varvatos.
Both photos were taken by James and Karla Murray, a pair of photographers who started documenting some of New York's unique storefront signs in 2001 after they noticed that they were starting to disappear. "They were either refaced, remodelled, or original signage had been substituted with new, bright and shiny plastic awnings," the Murrays told Strombo.com by email. "The whole look and feel of the neighbourhood had changed and much of its individuality and charm had gone. This was unsettling to us and we decided to document what we could of what remained."
They eventually compiled their work in their book Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York. The pair recently returned to the sites of their original photos, and found that nearly two thirds of the stores they'd shot were no longer around, replaced by chain stores and banks — or sometimes boarded up.
The Murrays say that many of today's plastic or vinyl signs just don't have the character of the hand-lettered and neon signs of old — although those neon signs can be costly to maintain for the businesses that have stuck around. "Countless owners shared with us the fact that maintaining these old illuminated works of art is truly a labour of love and that it would be less expensive in the long run if they replaced these original neon signs with replicas," they said.
"We hope the 'Store Front — 10 Years Later' series will bring awareness to the unique character these small mom-and-pop businesses add to the streets and neighbourhoods of New York City and the sense of community they provide," they said, adding that they hope the series will convince people to support local small businesses, to keep them afloat.
"These storefronts have the city's history etched into their facades."
Take a look at some of the changes chronicled by the Murrays in the gallery above.