This collection of storefront images reflects time caught in a moment, cultural collages of neighborhoods resisting the gentrification that eventually leaches the individual character once dominated by differences, catering to a diverse audience.
There is a corner bodega with a TV turned to a Spanish station, “where people gather to watch it and to meet friends and share news of family.” That bodega closes, replaced by a trendy upscale restaurant. Witnessing the inevitable demise of the stores that define the diverse character of the neighborhood, the author begins taking photographs from one street to another - Bedford Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Flatbush, Sunset Park.
He pauses again to record the sights of the waterfront from Greenpoint to Gowanus, a constantly changing scene of old and new. Unique to these businesses are the hand-painted signs that announce the type of venue, some skillful, some clumsy and unprofessional, others creative and unusual.
Like the varied personalities that thrive in Brooklyn and other such cities, these images illustrate a cultural bounty, the old and new centuries colliding in the common needs of residents who don’t require high-end malls or a sophisticated shopping experience. Pragmatic and service-oriented, these stores grow out of a community need.
Like the great highways once traveled by vacationing families to soak in local lore and unusual sites, these individual enterprises have fulfilled the immediate needs of locals, inevitably threatened by the fierce, indifferent march of progress with its sleek exteriors and cost-effective uniformity.
Brilliantly colorful and reflective of the local residents, it is sad to know that these brief touches of Americana will soon fade. There is much to be said for Bacchus West Indian Market, which carries duck, lamb and goat, or Star “Don’t Bug Me” Exterminators, or Grandmaster John Dinkins Martial Arts and Learning Center, with a larger-than-life portrait displayed across the front gate.
A bright red Rogers Tire Shop features stacks of used tires; a sunshine yellow Marcela Grocery carries necessary staples and Bud Light; D&S Basement bears clumsy signage announcing “everything must go” and “quick liquidation” of women’s rainbow-hued dresses.
Music stores, barber shops, markets, even a local theater group are captured on the pages of this nostalgic collection, homage to the soon-to-be forgotten, a lovely testament to the variety of human experience and the sheer joy of cultural exuberance.