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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Inside High Valley Books, the Fashion Bookstore in a Brooklyn Apartment

BusinessInside High Valley Books, the Fashion Bookstore in a Brooklyn Apartment


On a recent Sunday, few moments passed when Bill Hall wasn’t answering his home’s buzzer. He led a succession of fashionable Brooklynites through his entryway and into his sunny living room, which is lined with vintage fashion magazines, photo books from Guy Bourdin and Ron Jude and obscure German design quarterlies.

“Three big libraries just came in with 300 copies of The World of Interiors from the 1990s and 2000s, which are kind of hard to find,” Mr. Hall, a 60-year-old man in a rumpled shirt with clear-framed glasses balanced on his nose, said to a chic couple, gesturing toward the magazines on a nearby Eames bookshelf.

Mr. Hall’s home, in a three-story building in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, doubles as High Valley Books, a shop with more than 50,000 volumes of books and magazines, along with ephemera including a collection of paper-thin wood veneer samples and matchbox-size Lilliput Dictionaries. The store has become a source of inspiration and archival research for fashion designers, photographers and stylists who peruse the stacks that take up much of Mr. Hall’s living room and basement. (He lives upstairs with his wife and two daughters.)

Visits, by appointment only, can be made only through the store’s landline or via DM on Instagram. First-timers receive a tour of the store, and from there Mr. Hall guides them through the stacks according to their tastes. He also takes photos of willing customers with their finds and posts them on social media.

“I like to know who’s here,” he said during a rare lull. “I like to know their names, meet them at the door, and I like to introduce people to each other.”

Rowan Thompson, a brand strategist at a design firm, stopped in with her friend Wesley Chau, an industrial designer.

“I’ve been trying to come, but I end up here whenever Bill’s busy or the store is closed,” Ms. Thompson said. “I got lucky and called to ask if I could come in right now, because I was outside. The collection here is unparalleled.”

She walked out with a copy of “Lift,” an out-of-print history of plastic surgery by the journalist Joan Kron, on the recommendation of Mr. Hall, who regaled Ms. Thompson with bits of Ms. Kron’s biography.

Other usual customers also milled about, thumbing through the new arrivals. Bon Duke, a photographer and director, has been coming to the store since 2020. “Right off the bat, Bill knew exactly what I was looking for,” Mr. Duke said, while picking out a few photo books of 1980s magazine portraiture. “I’m always able to walk away with something. It feels weird if I leave without a book.”

The space in Greenpoint is the second location of High Valley Books. Mr. Hall opened the store in 1999 and operated it out of a brownstone in south Williamsburg in its first years. He named the shop after his grandmother’s farm in western Massachusetts and credits his family with his love of books.

“My mother and father were both big readers,” he said. “There were always books and magazines everywhere.”

In 1991, after earning undergraduate degrees at McGill and the University of Massachusetts, Mr. Hall was slated to start as an M.F.A. student at Pratt. But a few weeks before the semester began, he decided against it and took a job in the art department of The Strand bookstore.

A couple of years later, Richard Lilly, the longtime manager of The Strand’s art department and a family friend, introduced Mr. Hall to Shaun Gunson, a rare book dealer on the Upper East Side. Mr. Gunson’s health was rapidly deteriorating because of complications from AIDS, and Mr. Hall started doing small jobs for him, tracking down books and keeping an eye out for particular titles.

As Mr. Gunson’s health worsened, he offered to hire Mr. Hall full-time and teach him how to scour for rare fashion and design books. It was a fast — and vital — education, Mr. Hall remembered.

“There was a rapid transfer of knowledge during the AIDS crisis,” he said. “I had to do everything for him right away.”

Mr. Gunson died in 1993, and Mr. Hall helped manage the remaining collection before it was sold to another bookseller and private library curator, Kinsey Marable. After working with Mr. Marable for several years, Mr. Hall, newly married, decided to set up shop in Williamsburg. He and his wife moved into the parlor level of a brownstone around the corner from Peter Luger’s Steakhouse, and Mr. Hall operated High Valley Books from the dining room.

The store’s influence has grown steadily over the years. Balenciaga designers have been known to order books from High Valley for their personal libraries, and Thakoon Panichgul of HommeGirls has visited the shop several times. The social media influencer Addison Rae dropped in a few weeks ago to scoop up a vintage copy of Vanity Fair.

Patience Adobea and Theresa Meriam, who together run the online marketplace Adobea Adjei, have been coming to High Valley for a couple of years, and that Sunday the duo were browsing the basement aisles.

“I found a graphic design book that struck me because the cover was familiar from African hair salon photos,” said Ms. Abodea, who is also an archivist, holding up a vintage copy of the German design magazine Novum Gebrauchsgraphik.

Like many dealers, Mr. Hall doesn’t reveal exactly where he does his book buying. He did say that he still loves to go to bookstores when he travels and that he buys large and small collections, often from longtime clients. With a roguish smile, he declined to elaborate.

He’s not so circumspect with his customers, offering a stream of commentary on the provenance of nearly every book he’s in the process of selling. As he tallied up bills, he made sure that each person was comfortable with the price of their finds — prices aren’t listed on the volumes at High Valley, so Mr. Hall consults a digital database.

Buying a book at High Valley often feels almost like purchasing something from Mr. Hall’s personal collection, a sensation that still gives him a sense of joy.

“It’s so improbable, the whole thing, how it’s so popular and all the young people love it,” Mr. Hall said. “When it works well, it’s like a little salon where people can meet. It’s wonderful.”





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