Over twenty years ago my friend, Gerry Ranson, a British-born illustrator, did a series of pen-and-ink illustrations of dozens of small retail and service shops that he had noticed during long walks throughout Manhattan: shoe repair shops; flower and accessory stores; sandwich and coffee shops; locksmiths and dry cleaners; barbershops, boutiques, and book stalls.
What they all had in common is that they were tiny, really small, sometimes no more than a few feet wide and not much higher than a few feet above your head. And for all appearances they looked as if they had wedged themselves into the narrow, forgotten spaces left between two skyscrapers.
Gerry fell in love with these quirky little shops and deeply admired their plucky owners. He called the project, “Squeezing Out a Living in New York City,” based not only on their appearance but also on his conversations with the shop owners. Like Gerry, they had come from elsewhere, ready to roll up their sleeves and do what they needed to do, in order to make it in their new home.
Gerry did his last sketch sometime in the late 1990s. A lot has changed in New York City since then. Most of the shops Gerry sketched have closed and most of their owners seemed to have disappeared into the city’s landscapes of memory.
I’m on a mission to excavate them, to find these formers shops, and their owners, and recover a bit of the city’s lost history before it’s too late, before they are buried beneath the rubble of construction.