Normcore is Gail Busche’s nightmare. Ask the co-owner of Archangel Antiques to describe each decade’s fashion in a word or two and she doesn’t hesitate: “’20s short, ’30s slinky, ’40s strong, ’50s elegant, ’60s fun, ’70s out there.” But after that? “The ‘80s was so bad I was happy I could still wear ’40s. And after that, there was no style.”
The East Village store plans to close in June. Busche, 75, and partner and co-owner Ricahrd Cullen, 71, say they can’t keep up with a rent increase and competition with other nearby clothing shops. Back in August 2012, Cullen told The Local East Village that Archangel’s then-rent of $4800 had sextupled since the couple first occupied 334 E. 9th Street.
Busche and Cullen acquired her section of the storefront in 1993 and expanded three years later. Operating independently with shared profits, Busche curates her collection of vintage clothing, jewelry and over two million buttons. Cullen’s side is a curiosity shop filled with all sorts of crazy stuff: a gold and white beaded bikini top, a leather purse with crocodile head as fastener. He dubs it “the Cave, like Alibaba and the Forty Thieves.”
Semi-bald with drooping bulldog cheeks, Cullen resembles Grumpy from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in appearance only. He’s a reticent man who collects quirky sayings, typing them and taping them to a cabinet in the shop that’s within arm’s reach.
In contrast to Cullen’s introspectiveness, Busche–who once wanted to be an actress–is loquacious and vivid. Wearing a wineberry-red sweater, a funky ’70s purple sunflower pin and red lipstick, Busche looks not a day over 60. Although she became a teacher, she retained her love for playing dress-up. In response to “You look amazing” she bats her eyes and offers, jokingly, a hoity-toity, “I know.”
Cullen admits that the two couldn’t be more different. “I was a tough Irish kid from Boston, and Busche was like a little Jewish princess from New York City. It was two different worlds.”
Busche grew up in Queens, lived in New Jersey while she was married, then divorced and returned to the city with her two children. In 1976, she stumbled on fashion-buying because she abhorred the decade’s ubiquitous looks. Eventually she started her own business called Fantasy Fashion. In the early ’80s, she met Cullen at the Canal Street Flea Market.
He’d been in New York since 1965, when he pursued a graduate degree in psychology from the New School (while dabbling in psychedelia). He was bringing in antiques from Upstate New York, and Busche was coming in with thrift store vintage finds from New Jersey. The two teamed up professionally and personally; Busche moved in with Cullen in ’84.
The duo sold at flea markets all over the city before opening Archangel. Cullen picked the name (he and his ex-wife, who divorced in 1978, had visited Archangel Cascades in Zion National Park, Utah on their honeymoon).
These days, Cullen isn’t as full of vim and vigor. 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.”
Busche hopes to get rid of most of her inventory. Those two million buttons? Whatever remains will be earmarked for Etsy. Looking around the shop she reminisces, “This is 40 years of buying.”
334 E. 9th St. b/t 1st. and 2nd Aves., 212-260-9313