New York independent magazine store, Casa Magazine
As a copywriter at a digital media company, I’m the first to admit that 99.9% of the content I consume is online. It’s not even that I prefer it. In fact, I’d say I’d rather flip through the glossy pages of a magazine or smell the words coming out of freshly printed paper than squint at a small screen. But although print is my preferred mode of consumption, more often than not I opt for convenience over principle.
When I arrived in Manhattan, fresh out of college and still rambling in an innocent, almost cute way, I wanted nothing more than to work for a major magazine. I have more copies of vogue piled up than I’d like to admit, and my dorm room doubled as a bodega overrun with outdated issues of fashion and art catalogs. There was nothing sexier to me than the idea of getting into Hearst Tower or Condé Nast, and while I’m dating myself with this next clause, the concept of working at a digital media company had never not yet settled into my mental list of possible jobs in the industry. Fast forward six years, and the expression printing is dead is so frequently used that I’ve even seen it on t-shirts and tote bags and advertised all over town.
Three apartments and more than half a decade later, my faith not only in the printing industry, but also in the city arguably known for bringing it to life, has been restored. Tucked snugly around the corner from my new apartment is Casa Magazines, a convenience store that’s nothing but a magazine mecca. Piles of publications ranging from Time for Maintenance stack, and the overwhelming number of options is almost enough to incite panic. Led by the definition of a real character named Ali for over twenty-two years, the store offers over 2,500 titles ranging from fashion to art and niche interests. Does he own the store? “No, but I run the show”.
I ask Ali if he has any frequent customers, and he stares at me and says “everyone but you”. His regulars (and close friends, to boot) include Julianne Moore, Liv Tyler and Sarah Jessica Parker, and nearly every customer who enters the store greets him by name. Ironically, much of the store’s success is due to the very digitization of content that is causing stores like hers to struggle in the first place. Their Instagram account has gone viral, amassing nearly 40,000 followers to date. The account regularly posts exciting new headlines to enter the store, as well as photos of Ali posing with his favorite items and customers (including the late André Leon Talle). The shop has been open for nearly eighty-five years and closed for just one day during COVID. Ali mentions that he even slept on stacks of magazines five or six times, when the weather made it too difficult for him to get to his house and he always opened on time the next day.
Standing in the shop, it’s hard to believe in a world without printing. Each title exudes a unique energy, with faces from Hadids to Barack Obama staring at me from the covers. I ask Ali which cover star leads to the biggest hit, and he says Madonna in no time. Her favorite post? Playboy sure, but now it’s sold out. And what does he do with everything he doesn’t sell? “Inside the news, nothing to lose. If I don’t sell it, they give me three months to send it back, free of charge”.
Ali tells me he’s even started taking smaller publications on consignment, taking 10 copies and returning them if they don’t sell. He has helped many small publications gain exposure in a world frequented by high profile clients and celebrities. As he explains this process to me, another regular walks through the door. Ali asks him to tell me what he is doing. “I work for a very famous musician that you Probably know”. I ask who, and he measures me, determining whether or not I am cultured enough to be worthy of the answer. “Bob Dylan”.
After the man pays, Ali is silent for a minute as he puts on some music, and Willie Nelson starts screaming behind the counter. I ask if being downtown, especially in the middle of a pandemic, has led to any mishaps for the store. “It’s quite the opposite,” he says. The West Village development has unexpectedly boosted store sales, attracting customers willing to spend the extra dollar on content they might otherwise find online. Willie Nelson abruptly cuts off to make way for Drake’s Hotline Bling – fittingly his ringtone. A call from his brother in Pakistan, which he quickly takes before resuming the interview until receiving a second call moments later. A woman on the other end asks if they sell GQ Mexico, to which he replies no. He pauses. “If you give me a plane ticket, I’ll buy it for you,” he said.
As Ali continues to answer my questions, I realize that almost 70% of our talk has been life advice, and life advice that is needed. “Anytime you’re bored, stressed, have a problem to share with me – your boyfriend leaves you, you can take my shoulder to cry. I have so many clients like that. I try to say listen, no matter what the problem. I realize that although this little store carries 2,500 titles, almost all of them brilliant publications, Ali is perhaps the most insightful resource in the room. We end the interview, but not before he asked for a few selfies with me, which I’m dangerously close to having framed. I left the shop with a big smile on my face, three new posts in hand, countless life lessons and, above all, a friend. Yes, my friends, the print is still very much alive.