Industry | Entropy

The Mystery and Magic of New York’s Unoccupied Storefronts

When a business vacates a space, it doesn’t leave nothing. It leaves another, otherworldly something. It leaves a tableau of liminality, somewhere between industry and entropy.

I discover each one in a briefly resting state of in-between-ness, either waning or waxing. It’s a relic of failure, a cradle of possibility, a victim of transience on the verge of reincarnation, of the inevitable Next.

Each unassuming storefront, nestled inconspicuously within New York’s hyper-stimulating landscape, for some reason beckons me. Basquiat said he crossed out words so viewers would notice them. I see you, Jean-Michel.

When I stumble upon one of these storefronts, I gravitate toward it — toward the light, the screaming emptiness — but I’m never allowed in­­side. It’s a snow globe of shadows, a fish tank swimming with apparitions. With hands and forehead against the glass, I’m window-shopping for a story, a detail, a ghost.

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All the lights in the laundromat are on (except one), beaming down onto its invisible customers washing their invisible clothes in invisible machines, like the aging flappers and tuxedoed yuppies in The Gold Room of Jack Torrance’s Overlook Hotel.

Each space is its own unintentional urban art installment, dually forsaken and maintained, semi-curated, a picture of accidental beauty and intrigue and mystery and magic.

I’m sure there’s an easy explanation for that little nesting doll of a structure in the background, but isn’t it more fun to imagine what kinds of enchanted or illicit things happen under that roof…that roof that’s weirdly — if unnecessarily — underneath another roof (of the building)?

The city — that one “that never sleeps” — is an unremitting onomatopoeic cacophony of noise and motion. Stillness is elusive; emptiness, endangered. But this is a conservatory; here, both resources flourish and thrive. I’d like to think that every night, in this dim and tranquil corner, an alchemist settles into her workbench.


Ben Kassoy is the Editor-in-chief of DoSomething.org and the coauthor of eight books.

Sunny Facer is a Brooklyn-based photographer and filmmaker.


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