There are few retail establishments in New York that try as hard not to be noticed as Gallagher’s Magazine Archive and Gallery at 126 East 12th Street. A sign the size of a Post-it announces the store’s presence and directs one down a flight of stairs to the basement entrance. Stepping inside reveals a dim labyrinth of hallways and tiny rooms, all crammed with shelves sagging from the weight of old magazines. Any available wall space is covered with framed magazine covers of years gone by. Particularly striking is a Harper’s Bazaar from the sixties with Steve McQueen on the cover.
At last, in the deep recesses of a back room, I heard grunts and noises. Humans resided back there; they were stacking and arranging magazines. I was confused by the lengths these people had gone to hide their establishment from the bright, acquisitive eyes of the public. And I was confused by how magnificent and charming and weird the images strewn around the place were. Glaring out at me like a madman was Peter Sellers on the cover of a People magazine from 1975. How strange to see the journalistic incubus that was to grow into the monster that ate the medium. Sellers looks certifiably insane. I can’t imagine someone so over-the-top being so famous now. There is, it turns out, a method to Gallagher’s madness, which I suspected the moment I came across a framed letter from Carmel Snow (famed Harper’s Bazaar editor of days long gone) to one of her photographers. It was just a pithy note of congratulation, but you could smell the gin martini and picture the white gloves.
Here is a store that memorializes the perfect nows of the past, and it should come as no surprise then that the people responsible for the nows of the future should be Gallagher’s most faithful customers. Photographers, designers and art directors all peruse the dark aisles, looking for ideas. The store’s website features snaps of such fashion luminaries as Steven Meisel and Anna Sui. The prices are reasonable. Here in the dark musty aisles of Gallagher’s, that which is disposable has been elevated to the realm of the rare, the precious and the timeless.