Target and the Tale of Two (Storefront) Tributes
Anyone still disgusted by the marketing gimmicks of Target’s new Alphabet City store should head on down to Orchard Street for James and Karla Murray’s “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York” photography exhibit to see how a proper homage to the New York City storefront is done.
The couple’s storefront-persevering photography exhibition opened just days after the retail chain’s marketing team ended up insulting its target market with a life-size vinyl recreation of a tenement building complete with a CBGB awning re-branded as TRGT. Target’s cringe-worthy attempt to ingratiate itself with the community was a topic of the wine-sipping conversation for gallery goers at Wednesday night’s premiere at The Storefront Project Gallery at 70 Orchard Street.
The new exhibit – which works in conjunction with current Seward Park installation – features some of New York City’s most iconic (lost) storefronts, including CBGB. And for some, it ended up being a bit of a healing session for longtime residents still stunned by the tone-deaf display wrapped around the corner of the new Extell tower on 14th Street and Avenue A.
The duo has been documenting New York City storefronts since the early ’90s and are the authors of two books on the subject, complete with stories and memories of gritty-yet-cozy establishments that acted as landmarks in many neighborhoods.
James and Karla Murray’s fascination with New York street signage began with documenting graffiti and morphed into the photographic preservation of storefronts when Katy, of Katy’s Candy, was forced to close her shop. The couple ended up on an anthropological journey of sorts and gradually amassed shoeboxes full of film prints depicting storefront signage.
While some exteriors like Economy Candy, which provided candy for the opening, and Albanese Meat Market, pictured at the exhibit, are still holding on, many more iconic storefronts are disappearing from the streetscape due to the homogenizing forces of gentrification that erase the ethnic and cultural identity of the neighborhood. Over the years, icons like Block Drugs, Vesivio Bakery, Katz’s Deli, and Albanese Meat Market have been used as backdrops for countless film, fashion, and other commercial shoots because displaying these storefronts lend authenticity and a sense of place to either the story or product being sold.
When tenement buildings with New York-centric storefronts are knocked down to make way for luxury “mixed-use” complexes like the Extell tower, it’s not just the land they are building on, but also the equity that previous small-business owners have instilled in the neighborhood.
Nostalgia for “Old New York” can’t be trademarked or copyrighted. However, as we saw with Target, this “authenticity” is easily co-opted and monetized for the bottom line. It’s nothing new really. Marketing teams hoping to distinguish their property from another luxury tower are eager to tap into this cache in hopes of attracting renters with their property’s cultural significance.
Unfortunately, corporations usurping the neighborhood’s culture is not likely to change. But in the future, national brands like Target might consider creating cross-promotional openings with any one of the many local community-based organizations in order to gain street cred and leave the homage to New York-centric storefronts to artists like James and Karla Murray.