Public Art with Dibond® Raises Awareness of Disappearing ‘Mom-And-Pop’ Shops in New York City

James and Karla Murray — a married team of architectural and interior photographers based in New York City — have been on a mission for two-plus decades to document and preserve images of “mom-and-pop” storefronts scattered throughout the city’s boroughs that not only have fulfilled residents’ retail needs but created a sense of community through their daily interactions.

From bodegas to newsstands, delis and luncheonettes, this couple has recorded the troubling closures of many of these family-owned businesses due to financially crippling rent increases. To help raise awareness about the plight of these small businesses, the Murrays created “Mom-and-Pops of the L.E.S.”, a large-scale wood-frame sculptural installation designed to resemble a store. Each of the installation’s four walls is covered with a lifelike 8-by-12 foot photograph of a neighborhood storefront from Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Three of these businesses have closed.

“When viewing the near life-size photographs, one can get a visceral sense of the impact of the losses of these businesses on the community and on those who once depended on the shops that are now gone,” said the Murrays in an artist’s statement describing this mixed media piece. “The installation is an artistic intervention and plea for recognition of the unique and irreplaceable contribution made to New York by small, often family-owned businesses. These neighborhood stores help set the pulse, life and texture of their communities.”

Installed in the city’s Seward Park in June 2018, this public art installation features large-scale storefront images printed on vinyl and laminated to durable, weather-resistant 3mm DIBOND® aluminum composite material by 3A Composites USA.

(DIBOND® is an aluminum composite material consisting of two pre-painted sheets of 0.012-inch aluminum bonded to a solid polyethylene core — a unique composition that makes it approximately one-half the weight of aluminum. As the flattest panel on the market, DIBOND® offers a superior surface for direct digital-printing. It also can be routed and returned to add dimension or roll-formed to deliver sweeping curves. DIBOND® offers outstanding durability in outdoor applications and won’t bow or oil can.)

“It was awesome to print large photos of these mom-and-pops for installation in Seward Park and to get our message out to the fabric of the community,” said Karla Murray. “When you come up from the subway, you can see this piece right away. We wanted to print the photos so big that people couldn’t ignore it.”

The “Mom-and-Pops of the L.E.S.” rectangular storefront art  installation measures 8.5-feet tall by 12 feet wide on each of four sides and appears so lifelike — and life-sized to children — that Karla Murray said she had to turn away a 4-year-old boy during installation when he handed her a dollar to buy a bag of chips.

“It really does look like you’re standing in front of a store,” said Karla Murray. “We couldn’t be happier with the DIBOND® material.”

Karla and James Murray were awarded this public art commission in February 2018 through the Arts in the Parks: UNIQLO Park Expressions Grant, a partnership between the Japanese clothing company and the New York City Parks Department that began in 2016. The grant brought 10 art installations by New York City-based emerging artists to parks throughout the five boroughs that have historically lacked cultural programming.

The Murrays built the installation’s framework out of wooden 2-by-4s and covered the walls with plywood. They turned to Unique Visuals NY — New York-based specialists in indoor and outdoor signage and custom graphics — for image printing, fabrication and installation.

Unique Visuals NY utilized an Epson SureColor S60600 eco-solvent large-format printer to digitally print the four 8-by-12 foot storefront images onto 3M vinyl. The printed vinyl was covered with an Avery Dennison anti-graffiti over-laminating film to offer additional protection for the artwork and to add sheen to the printed images. Unique Visuals NY recommended 3mm DIBOND® aluminum composite material in the Fine Silver color as a durable substrate for mounting the vinyl prints. The project utilized 10 4-by-8 foot DIBOND® panels.

“When James and Karla came to us with this project, we asked a lot of questions especially when we learned they were building framework,” said Fernando Luciano, executive vice president/founding partner, Unique Visuals NY. “We had a couple of concerns about weight and durability in a public park, so we narrowed down our list of possible substrates. When we added everything up, DIBOND® was lighter than some other materials but offered a lot of durability. …

“We use DIBOND® for a ton of projects. We’ve done a lot of retail windows for fashion clients where we turn to DIBOND® for creating floors and walls. It offers durability and holds up well with sun exposure. We also turn to DIBOND® for outdoor structures. It’s a multi-use substrate.”

The Murrays installed the sculpture’s framework themselves to a painted base.

“We had to build the structure to code,” said Karla Murray. “The whole thing is attached to skids of lumber that are used on construction sites.”

Unique Visuals NY employees completed installation of the storefront images on DIBOND®.

“We had to be very careful during installation because the framework was a little more delicate than we expected,” said Luciano. “We used smaller hardware and drilled in strategic places. We added small screws and nails and were careful with what we did on the prints.”

The Murrays painted the screws and nails to match the storefront prints and finished the sculpture’s roof with wavy green polyethylene material resembling the awnings of neighborhood bodegas.

“We’ve gotten really positive responses from neighborhood residents in raising awareness about mom-and-pop stores,” said Karla Murray. “They got it and they love it. The piece adds life to this corner of the park and beautifies the park. We couldn’t be happier with it.”

The Murrays have photographed the sculptural installation through the seasons and are pleased with how well it has withstood changing weather conditions.

“We would love to do another public art installation and would definitely use the DIBOND® material again,” said Karla Murray. “We’ve seen how beautiful this piece looks and how really well it’s held up.”

“DIBOND® is a really good product,” said Luciano. “I had never used it until I became part of Unique Visuals NY. It changed my perception of what could be done in displays because it’s so durable. We stock it and special order it. We use it in place of other materials that aren’t as durable.”

The “Mom-and-Pops of the L.E.S.” public artwork will be installed in Seward Park through June 30, 2019. The Murrays hope to find a new home for the piece where it can be displayed intact following its removal from the park.

For more information about DIBOND®, visit, email or call (800) 626-3365.

About 3A Composites USA

3A Composites USA specializes in the manufacturing of leading substrates for the graphic display and architectural markets in North America, South America and Central America. With manufacturing facilities in Benton, Ky., Statesville, N.C., and Glasgow, Ky., and sales and marketing offices in Davidson, N.C., our industry leading brands include: FOME-COR®, SINTRA®, FIBERMATE, GATOR®,   DIBOND ® and ALUCOBOND.®

About 3A Composites

3A Composites has developed, manufactured and marketed high-quality aluminum composite panels, structural composite material, plastic sheets and lightweight foam boards for architecture, visual communication and the transport and industry markets since 1969. Following the integration of the Polycasa group in April 2015, 3A Composites has extended its product portfolio with a wide choice of plastic sheets to strengthen its position as a diverse and leading manufacturer of materials for display, building and industrial applications. 3A Composites also focuses on the wind energy and marine markets.

3A Composites is part of the international 3A Composites Group, which belongs to the listed company Schweiter Technologies headquartered in Horgen, Switzerland. 3A Composites has approximately 4,400 employees worldwide. 3A Composites’ well-known brands ALUCOBOND®, DIBOND®, FOREX®/SINTRA®, GATOR®, KAPA®, FOME-COR®,ALUCORE®,AIREX® and BALTEK® are the category leaders in the markets served.

Photography: © James and Karla Murray

® DIBOND is a registered of 3A Composites USA.