Archangel Antiques closes after 21 years: “Young people don’t understand vintage”

There was a time when people lived without smartphones. That was also the time that people would look around and gasp in surprise, “Oh, what a cool shop. I think I will check it out.”

Archangel Antiques, co-owned by Gail (75) and her partner, Richard[1], is one of those shops. Tucked in the corner of 9th Street and 1st/2nd Ave in East Village, the 2-in-1 store will be closing this June. The piece is picked up by Bedford&Bowery, but you can read the original here.

Richard helping a customer (Archangel Antique 2nd Ave/9th St)

Richard helping a customer

[1] Gail and Richard asked to be identified by their first names.

Ask Gail to describe each decade’s fashion in a word or two, the vivacious woman would reply without hesitation.

‘20s short, ‘30s slinky, 40s strong, ‘50s elegant, ‘60s fun, ‘70s out there.” But when it comes to the ‘80s and ‘90s, she remarks, “The ‘80s was so bad I was happy I could still wear 40s. And after that, there was no style.

Gail, co-owner of Archangel Antique, organizes postcards

Gail, co-owner of Archangel Antique, organizes postcards

Archangel boasts of an impressive vintage buttons. These are Victorian black glass buttons.

Archangel boasts of an impressive vintage buttons. These are Victorian black glass buttons.

Gail (75) and her partner, Richard (71) [1]  are co-owners of Archangel Antiques in East Village. They acquired Gail’s part of the store in 1993, and three years later, expanded into the store next door. Operating independently with shared profit, Gail curates her collection of vintage clothing, jewelry and over two millions buttons (Okay fine, one million and a half). “It started about 27, 28 years ago,” Gail explains, “I bought a cookie tin that had black glass Victorian buttons. People got interested and started asking, so I would advertise for button collections.”

Richard’s side is a curiosity shop filled with all sorts of crazy stuff – gold and white beaded bikini top, leather purse with crocodile head as fastener. He dubs it “the Cave, like Alibaba and the Forty Thieves.”

Richard, semi-bald with drooping bulldog cheeks, resembles Grumpy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But only in appearance, the reticent man has a quirky humor and the quotes he collects reflect his eccentricity. “Look at this,” he points to a piece of typed paper taped on a cabinet. “I know you believe you understand what I said,” he recites, “but I don’t think you realized what you heard is not what I meant.” He chuckles throatily and reads another, “Answer $1. Correct Answer $2. Answer requiring thought $4.”

Contrasting Richard’s introspective, quiet personality, Gail is loquacious and vivid. The older of two girls, Gail had always wanted to be an actress. Although she became a teacher, she retained her love for playing. In response to – You look amazing – she bats her eyes and offers, jokingly, a hoity-toity, “I know.”

Gail grew up in Queens, Richard was from Boston. She married at 24 and moved to New Jersey. After her divorce in 1976, she stumbled upon fashion buying because she abhorred ‘70s fashion. She looked for ‘40s dresses from thrift stores. People noticed, asked her to buy things for them and eventually she started her own business called “Fantasy Fashion.” In the early ‘80s, she met Richard at the Canal Street Flea Market. He was bringing in antiques from Upstate New York, and Gail was coming in with thrift store vintage finds from New Jersey. The two teamed up and Gail moved in with Richard in ’84. She proclaims, “I reentered the city, after a marriage and two kids.”

Richard admits that the two cannot be more different. “I was a tough Irish kid from Boston, and Gail was like a little Jewish princess from New York City. It was two different worlds.” If he were to affix a word to their meeting, the deeply spiritual man would ascribe it to fate. He came to the city in 1965 to pursue a graduate degree in psychology at the New School. At 22 and fully immersed in the age of psychedelic, Richard recalls the East Village as “colorful, a lot of incense, everybody was smoking or doing LSD.”

The duo sold at flea markets all over the city before opening Archangel. Now, after 21 years, the store will be closing this June. Chloe Treat, a recent NYU grad, laments over the impending closure. She has been coming to Archangel since she was 19. “This is where I come to get people gifts because you can always find something unique.”

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Richard tackles the closure with practical businessman mentality. He highlights the stress associated with running the store – “You have to pay the landlord, electricity, telephone, help… It’s seven days a week, I can’t do it anymore.” After 21 years in the East Village, he is ready to move on.

Gail bemoans the situation. They cannot keep up with the increased rent. Besides competition with other vintage clothing stores in the area, East Village’s demographic is mostly students. Generally speaking, students do not have money or taste. Gail argues that to buy vintage, “you have to have a little sense of adventure, style, and be willing to stand out a bit.” While there is nothing wrong with buying what everyone else is wearing from H&M or Urban Outfitters, she adds that “Young people just don’t have a sense of personal style.”

And don’t get Gail started on quality. “Things are just so much better made – the trim, hem, button holes – because people don’t buy new things all the time.” She comments that back then, when you buy things, you expected it to last. Four years ago she sold her prom dress that dated back to 1956. The dress, a black lace over pink with a cinched waist (“everything had a waist back then”), was in perfect condition. To Gail, the ‘50s equates feminine shapeliness. Women wore waist cinchers, garter belts and put on lipsticks to buy groceries. She rues that girls these days lack the form – “shoulders down, chest out, tummy in” – to pull off ’50s dresses.

“POS” Gail asserts, “That’s what I tell my granddaughter – Princess or Schlump.

Gail hopes to get rid of most of her inventory. And those two million buttons? Whatever buttons she doesn’t sell, she will put it up Etsy. Looking around the shop she reminisces, “This is forty years of buying.”

She pauses, before adding, “Let me show you something.” She walks toward one of the glass display cabinets and takes out a card. She gingerly eases it out of its plastic bag, revealing an intricate 3-D valentine. A rosy-cheeked Cupid floated amid rich layered lace, swirling pastel blue ribbons and flowering vines.

“Beautiful,” Gail whispers with a slight flutter in her breath, “a Victorian Valentine.”

Vintage Victorian Valentine

Vintage Victorian Valentine

Archangel Antiques (334 E 9th St, New York, NY)

5 thoughts on “Archangel Antiques closes after 21 years: “Young people don’t understand vintage”

  1. Pingback: 泛黃歲月,21 年古董老店六月關門 | 速寫紐約

  2. Sherry Mazzocchi

    This is brilliant: “‘20s short, ‘30s slinky, 40s strong, ‘50s elegant, ‘60s fun, ‘70s out there.” But when it comes to the ‘80s and ‘90s, she remarks, “The ‘80s was so bad I was happy I could still wear 40s. And after that, there was no style.”
    Nice piece!


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