Joel Holland’s guide of NYC shops is a visible homage to the town
Like many a great project, NYC Storefronts was born from the creative limitations that lockdown presented. Authored by New York-based illustrator Joel Holland, and recently published as a book by Prestel, the series of over 200 drawings features the façades of shops all over the Big Apple. From record stores and bookshops to florists and salons, the city’s dizzying array of independent businesses is captured in Holland’s beautifully soft sketches.
“It began mostly as a way for me to visit, in some small way, my favourite places and businesses – like a visual love letter,” he writes in the book’s introduction, recalling the start of the project. Initiated shortly after he had moved into a new apartment in Manhattan and coinciding with the arrival of the first lockdown, he describes these illustrations as his “method of grabbing tight to New York and squeezing. Hard.”
Top image: Gem Spa; Above: Pastrami Queen. All images © Joel Holland, 2022
Punjabi Grocery & Deli
The first shop he chose as his muse was Economy Candy on Rivington Street, a local institution which has been open since 1937 and is somewhere that Holland and his daughters would frequent in normal times. Next was Gem Spa – an “East Village staple and the maker of the best egg creams”, which Holland drew as a way of showing support after he received news that it was closing.
At this point, the project took a turn. Following Holland’s decision to post these two illustrations on Instagram, the artist was met with an enthusiastic response. His followers loved the drawings and encouraged him to make more. “It was gratifying and, more importantly, gave me a way to send good vibes to the businesses themselves. Maybe it would even help drive customers to them,” he writes.
Albanese Meats & Poultry
Soon, Holland’s followers were even sending their own suggestions for storefronts that he should sketch. Many of them were struggling to stay afloat during a period of unprecedented closure and the illustrations served as a welcome reminder that these vacant businesses were still there, even if no one had stepped foot inside of them for months.
Speaking on the many spots that he visited, Holland writes: “I haven’t intentionally focused on locations that are off the beaten path, but sort of (it’s Manhattan; there is no unbeaten path here). They are drawings of storefronts that I treasure: the shops I see while riding the southbound M9 bus to play basketball on Mondays. Or the infinite stores seen during Chinatown walks, often with a cup from Oliver Coffee in hand.”
The Pickle Guys
What is clear from the hundreds of drawings is that each has been lovingly made. Many of them feature not just the shop’s frontage, but also the spaces and products within. As a longtime local, Holland treats each shop with care and attention, and in doing so, pays tribute, in his own quiet way, to the businesses that hold so many of New York’s communities together.