Archangel Antiques: An East Village Original

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East Village, NEW YORK– A corncob pipe, a diamond tiara and 2.5 million buttons.  Archangel Antiques has been a part of East Village culture for nearly 20 years, and with a collection like this, it’s no wonder that the small shop still manages to fascinate every customer who wanders in. With overflowing filing cabinets and display cases lining the walls, Archangel Antiques is truly a one-stop shop for everything you've always wanted... and never knew existed. Photo by Robert Punchur.

This is an impressive feat for a store located in Alphabet City, an area of New York known for its originality and oddities. Despite competition from nearly 20 other Antique shops within a one-block radius, for two decades Archangel has humbly reigned as the true original.

“Plenty of other shops have come and gone over the years,” Co-owner Richard Cullen explained.  “The neighborhood is constantly changing. And we’ve been here to watch it all happen.”

Cullen credits his store’s success to the vast diversity of goods it carries.  While many other shops in the neighborhood specialize in one specific area (i.e. jewelry, eyewear, antique clothing, etc.), Archangel has it all.

The shop’s varied collection is reflected in its cluttered layout, where buyers can find vintage cameras hiding behind original paintings and century-old postcards tucked underneath decorative skulls.

“It’s like somebody lit a firecracker and it all wound up on the wall,” Cullen joked. “But that’s part of the fun. It’s the thrill of the discovery that brings people inside.”

Cullen gestured to a display case, which held (among countless other things) alligator-skin wallets and antique jewelry.

“There’s something for everyone," he said. "You just need to know where to look for it.”

Cullen is a Boston College graduate.  He earned his masters in Psychology from the New School (NYC) nearly four decades ago.

Soon after, he began antiquing.  His first purchases were from small farmland auctions in the Adirondacks.

Cullen brought these country knickknacks down to Canal Street, where tourists were looking to buy unique pieces of Americana in order to commemorate their trip to the city.  It was here that Cullen met Gail Buscag, a New Jersey substitute teacher who, like Cullen, subsidized her income by selling antique clothing out of her house.

For the next 20 years, these two traders took a hands-on approach to learning the antique business by buying and selling items at flea markets around the city.

“Any time we saw something unusual—anything weird, unique, funky or odd—we had to buy it,” Cullen explained.  “That’s just the sort of stuff that interested us.  If it stood out, it was easy to buy.”

Over time, Cullen and Buscag gained experience and became well versed in the antiquing world.  After 19 years of selling on the road, they had enough inventory to settle down and open up shop in the East Village.

Archangel Antiques officially opened in the early 1990s at its current location on 334 East 9th Street.  Two years later, the small shop doubled in size by renting a second storefront next door.  To help with the management of this new space, the co-owners brought on a third partner—an eccentric gentleman by the name of Michael Duggan.

A former Versache employee, Duggan brought with him an intimate knowledge of the fashion industry.

“[Duggan] is a vast source of information,” Cullen said.  “He knows what’s in and what’s out.  He’s familiar with all different periods of fashion and can give anybody advice when it comes to sophisticated styling.”

Duggan’s usefulness in the shop is hardly limited to just clothing, however.

“He’s also very intelligent, and extremely personable,” Cullen said.  “All of the customers love him.  And they all seem to know him by name.”

It seems surprising in a space so jam-packed with curiosities that a single man is able to become the main focus of intrigue.  But after listening to some of Duggan’s endless anecdotes (ranging from vacations in Miami to run-ins with Eric Clapton) buyers’ interest quickly becomes much more relatable.

“In this eclectic little museum of ours, Michael may be the most fascinating addition to date,” Buscag said with a smile.

Duggan has also helped the shop stay profitable in recent years by shifting focus towards a more commercial audience.

“Searching through the shop used to be a social experience for people in the East Village,” Duggan explained.  “But after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, that sort of attitude faded out.  People didn’t want to wander around New York anymore.  Our business suffered because of that.”

In order to compensate for this lack of individual customers, Archangel now services primarily towards professional buyers: artists searching for props, models searching for accessories and designers searching for inspiration.

Items from the shop have been featured in magazines such as Italian Vogue.  Some of the antique clothing has also been reinterpreted in current fashion lines, including the Ralph Lauren Purple Label.

While commercial renting and selling keeps the business afloat today, the owners remain passionate about serving individuals and spreading an affinity for the obscure.

“Here, it’s a matter of sharing something that you love,” Duggan said.  “It's always nice when you’re able to sell an interesting piece and see its life continue.”

 

CityRobert Punchur