It’s the tiny locksmith shops, expansive markets and the greasy spoon diners that make New York, New York, illustrator Joel Holland contends in his new book NYC Storefronts: Illustrations of the Big Apple’s Best-Loved Spots.
As the pandemic began, Holland watched as the city shuttered and some stores closed altogether. He grabbed a pen and some markers and began sketching each one as a visual love letter to the city. As he posted the illustrations to Instagram, he saw how the drawings resonated with fellow New Yorkers.
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Now, Holland has turned those 225 illustrations of some of the city’s most iconic storefronts into a book called NYC Storefronts, publishing on October 4. Writer David Dodge penned vivid descriptions for each entry, giving readers tips on everything from where to find the best chicken schnitzel to where to buy a black cap fringed with red-and-yellow flames.
The illustrations focus on Manhattan and lean into places that have become favorites of Holland and his family. He also took suggestions from friends along the way.
“I’m fully aware that this is not every single restaurant or business in New York. And I know that the selections that were made were from my heart, from what I was familiar with,” Holland told Time Out. “My hope is that with David’s writing, with my drawings, that people might see a shoe repair place, and that might not be where they go, but it might make them think more fondly of where they do go.”
The drawings, he added, also aren’t perfect, as a way to give each one “a realness and a humor and a life.”
As a writer, Dodge captured each place’s essence and unearthed some fascinating facts along the way. For example, he said, two stories in particular jump out.
It’s people like this. This is what’s keeping New York, New York.
First, there’s the Balloon Saloon, the colorful TriBeCa spot where it’s impossible not to smile. But few know the store’s history: It once sold novelty sex items, but as the business’ owners saw the neighborhood transform, they realized balloons would likely cater better to the new clientele.
Then, there’s Greenwich Locksmiths, measuring in at just 125 square feet and earning the title of smallest free-standing building in all of Manhattan. A bank once offered the owner $2 million dollars for the space, but he refused to sell.
“It’s people like this. This is what’s keeping New York, New York is that there’s people that are willing to turn down that kind of money and that are committed to what they do in their profession,” Dodge said.
Stories of the people and places that make New York the place it is fill the book. Dodge hopes readers will use it to learn more about their favorite places and to find new places to visit around the city.
Holland wants the book to inspire “all the feels” and to conjure memories like he has at places like Joe’s Bar, The Pickle Guys and Shabu Tatsu. He also wants to remind readers to support the small business owners working “so hard to provide us with what’s so fresh about living here.”
“It really is a love letter to small businesses, small storefronts. There’s not a single big-box store here among these, these are not what makes New York, New York,” Dodge said. “It’s not the Apple Store on 14th Street, but it’s like Village Locksmiths that’s been there forever.”
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.