In Urbanism Without Effort, I wrote that storefronts have always made the city. One reason is the messages they communicate, which is why blank walls that say nothing can make for an unpopular urban place. Storefronts and window displays during the pandemic are no exception.

On Hill Street in Richmond upon Thames, one such display communicates a salient message, with masked figurines reminding passers-by of dynamic times, where nothing is the same for too long. For instance, prescribed distancing of six feet in England may soon be three, we hear, assuming masks are worn. Accelerate that notion, and before too long, the need for masks and plexiglass will be memories; but what of this window itself?

“This too shall pass,” popularized by Abraham Lincoln and Edward Fitzgerald, has more ancient roots, likely as a Persian fable about a ring with a message that would cause happiness when sad, and sadness when happy. A comforting phrase can haunt–and make us wonder what could possibly come next.

So here is the question, probably unintended by the clever shopkeeper, but critical to the survival of the High Street. If you saw this message on a welcome screen for an online store, would it be equally meaningful? There is a double entendre afoot that speaks to a key question of post-pandemic urban identity: will the store, too, pass on?

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