New York through its storefronts: Joel Holland draws the city’s independent businesses
The illustrator hopes the project – now available in a book published by Prestel – will push New York’s community to continue to support the local institutions that make the city so unique.
- Olivia Hingley
- 18 October 2022
For Joel Holland, the NYC Storefronts project flourished over the pandemic because of a feeling many were experiencing – nostalgia. While Joel had been drawing New York’s storefronts for many years, over the extended periods of time spent indoors, it became a means of solace. “During the early days of Covid, I started drawing the places that I would usually go to with my two daughters,” Joel tells It’s Nice That. “It was a way of keeping us connected to the city.” But soon, the project spiralled into something not only deeply personal, but also something that resonated within the city’s wider community. “It quickly morphed into a way to help, in however small a way sometimes, these local businesses; an advertisement they didn’t ask for but hopefully helped them and reminded them how vital they are to our city.”
As is expected, the project was an immensely fun one to carry out. To realise the fronts, Joel starts with a pencil followed by a rainbow array of Pilot G2 pens. And, once in a while, Joel would also get inventive with his tools. “Occasionally I’ll use some of my kid’s art supplies,” Joel laughs, “their blow markers are awesome, they give off an airbrush paint vibe that adds magnificent texture." Joel identifies a particularly enjoyable storefront to draw as Tribeca’s Balloon Saloon, with its facade brimming with inflatables in a number of absurd shapes and luminescent colours.
The project was made all the more special by the attention owners paid to their establishments. “There’s often so much care, sometimes unintentional, that the shops are filled with details,” he says. “Capturing those elements helps the viewer connect emotionally.” And it’s these very personal touches and idiosyncrasies that give the storefronts such character; the bright blue chair outside a brown fronted locksmiths, the intricate lettering of a pickle house’s sign, the fortune teller coin slot sitting outside an off-licence.
But, according to Joel, the best part of the whole process comes after the creative process, and being able to share the finished piece with the owners, employees and locals. For one of the storefronts, Essex Card Shop in the East Village, the drawing has been of particular significance. “I drew their shop just before they moved a block north,” Joel explains. “Then their new shop had a fire that destroyed everything. After the fire I was told by several people how the owner had my drawing as a screensaver on his computer.” Fortunately, the shop has recently reopened and now uses Joel’s drawing on their business cards, and their old sign sits in the New York Sign Museum.
On how he wants the project to be received, first and foremost Joel hopes that it will push readers to support the businesses featured. What’s more, he hopes that the drawings will strike up an emotional connection within people. Whether they’ve been a regular, entered once, or simply walked past once or twice, Joel wants to remind people how “magical” of a place Manhattan really is.
Joel Holland: Mamoun’s Falafel (Copyright © Joel Holland, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.