See a gallery of NYC's glorious, gorgeous old-time storefronts

Originally published at: See a gallery of NYC's glorious, gorgeous old-time storefronts | Boing Boing



Why is it that even in the increasingly rare occurrence that a new, locally owned neighborhood shop opens, its storefront will have none of the eccentric aesthetic charm of these beauties from previous eras?

Storefronts in NYC are part of a leased property, and just like your homeowners association (if you were foolish enough to buy a house with such) usually won’t allow you to paint your house in bright primary colors and put a large art installation in your front yard or do anything else that detracts from the semi-delusional “it destroys the property value of others homes,” the investors who developed the property won’t allow new tenants to detract from the hypothetical value of that property’s rental income by putting up anything that departs from the norm enough to qualify for “eccentric aesthetic charm.”

It’s the same reason the rental for these storefronts are so high that at any given time nearly 15% are unrented, often for years at a time. The investors who put money into the location’s development want a certain rate of return, and will insist in the investment paperwork such terms as a minimum rental amount per square foot for each unit, prohibitions on too much creativity on the part of the tenants and their decorations, and an absolute ban on anything that might impact their ability to seek the highest possible rent for their investments.


One thing I rather appreciate from a Korean delivery app company’s design crew (wonderful folks, despite the well-deserved criticism as a company), is that they sent out teams every year to study hand-lettered signs from businesses running for decades and creating fonts to be released via Open Font License, creating a years-long resurgence in urban signage with human character across the cityscape.


It’s kina like asking why the green shoots that manage to push through the pavement don’t yield beautiful delicate flowers like they did back when this was a meadow.

I don’t know the details in New York, but in London the color used to come from the kind of place whose proprietor might spend time painting a wonky mural, or stocking curious items that were uneconomical to get hold of, or otherwise drawing non-profit-motivated breath.

Now we’ve defeated these foul terrorist scum, if you do see an independent business, you can rest assured they’re in a suitable cold sweat trying to cover their rent 24/7. They are still free to have quirky decor – neoliberalism makes us free as shit – but they must do it in a responsible way, by buying quirky handlettered signs mass-produced in Asia.

It’s a popular misconception that neoliberalism wants to kill individual creativity. Not at all! It just wants to kill the wicked, treasonous part of your creativity that forgets to make money for your landlord. Without that money, how can they afford to keep caring for you?


I used to eat at that tea parlor in Chinatown. Such delicious food which they brought over on a cart. You would select the items you wanted. For the bill, they would just count your plates.


If this happened in America, the original painters of those signs would bring a lawsuit to protect the intellectual property of their handwriting style.

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The western equivalent I could think of is

I don’t know if they had faced litigation for their work.

House does not appear to have put out fonts with open licenses (free to modify), but for years they’ve based their works on classic signage. Their work resembles popular period sign styles refined and reproduced by a whole collection of sign artists over the years, not identifiable to any specific artist but is instantly recognizable by anyone who had lived through that time, and the intent was the same with this Korean company as well, seeking to revive an almost forgotten, but shared heritage. They have also managed to generate an interest in actual hand-cut, hand-brushed signs, as I’ve seen new signage made unironically with old techniques.


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