Spruce Gallery and the Enduring Art of Print Magazines

I still remember the haunting words from my childhood that had inadvertently changed the trajectory of life when all I had ever wanted for my career was to work in one of my favorite local indie magazines and, eventually, publish my own that others, like me, would collect and love.

“Print is dying.”

I didn’t want to believe it at the time and yet I witnessed it happen. The indie magazines I had collected through the years ended their run one by one. I said goodbye to my then-dream career. I left my fantasy of being a future Jenna Rink in “13 Going On 30” heading her own publishing company into the ether.

But I never stopped collecting.

The truth is, print never was dead.

Sure, we said our eulogies to some amazing local indie titles but those like me who’ve traveled abroad and visited bookstores would see that the industry was still alive—thriving and flourishing even more so today. And there couldn’t have been a more ideal time than now to rekindle that love for reading and collecting print magazines in the generation that was forced to move on and ignite the same passion in the new generation that is craving it.

spruce gallery

Photo by Jar Concengco

Spruce Gallery: a new home for print magazines around the world

Nestled in the upper ground floor of City & Land Mega Plaza in Ortigas Center is Spruce Gallery, a shop selling a vast curated selection of titles in a cozy space where any visitor is free to browse, read, and stay as long as they want to.

A brainchild of Ric Gindap and Bonnapart Galeng who are also the founding members of the Manila-based branding and creative agency Design for Tomorrow, Spruce Gallery makes beloved titles like Kinfolk, Monocle, The Gentlewoman, Frankie, and Popeye accessible to the Filipino market and unfamiliar ones like Brownbook, SHUKYU, White Fungus, Boys! Boys! Boys!, and Humble Pie waiting to be discovered.

spruce gallery founders

Photo by Jar Concengco

Despite the seemingly hidden location, passersby can spot Spruce Gallery from the outside through the store window facing the sidewalk along ADB Avenue. The bright signage plus an array of interesting and provocative titles on display beckon you to take a little detour up the steps and through its doors.

Filipino zines are also showcased in the store on a special rack next to Spruce Gallery’s impressive Monocle radio, perched atop a black Ishinomaki Laboratory Tripodal High Stool broadcasts the Monocle 24 station round-the-clock. And on the walls hang a rotating selection of art from emerging and established artists in the Philippines and around the world. Even the way that the shop was built, with its black color scheme and powder-coated perforated steel walls, was carefully thought out to make the covers pop and make it easy to switch up the shelves.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Spruce Gallery’s co-owners to talk about their love of print, their favorite magazines, and the vision they have as the catalyst we didn’t know we needed to prove that this enduring art form is well and alive.

spruce gallery

Photo by Jar Concengco

What’s the rationale behind naming your magazine shop Spruce Gallery?

RIC: Well, when we imagined the space, we wanted it to be a confluence of magazines, which we both love, and also art.  So how do you come up with a name or even a visual identity that marries both? The etymology [of Spruce] is from the word Pruce meaning “from Prussia.” In Prussia, they have this really amazing timber, and it’s the kind of timber that is used as pulp for printing paper, and the timber that is used to frame artworks. The name became also a very symbolic reference to what you can see in the gallery. But crucially, as a word itself, sprucing up is to enhance, to elevate, to make things a little bit better. That’s the goal of the gallery, that when you go here, it broadens your horizon, it enhances your mood because you have a delightful discovery, and at the same time, it becomes a reflection of your evolving tastes.

So what made you decide to set up this independent magazine shop in Manila?

BON: Well, for starters, as Ric mentioned, we’re very passionate and love print media. We were editing a magazine before called Monday Magazine. It’s a local magazine back in 2010. But it’s really expensive to produce and our publisher cannot keep up with the expenses and all. So we got folded and then we eventually went into design and branding. We always go out of the country for work and of course leisure, and our first stop is bookstores [since] it’s really hard to find and to get good magazines that we want [here in the Philippines.] And so we thought, why don’t we just open a magazine store?

Are you official stockists of these magazines or do you just buy them in bulk and resell them?

BON: We go directly to the publishers and they will direct us to their official distributor. That’s how we connect to the editors [of the magazines] as well.

RIC: Some of the editors became our really close friends. We have a great relationship with the people of Design Anthology. We became really close friends with the people of It’s A Passion Thing from Vienna. We follow most of the editors of Monocle Magazine [whom] we have personally met. No other print seller in the country can claim something like that. I recently was at the Monocle conference in Munich [where] you meet all the editors. That kind of connection made it easy for us to do this because, otherwise, if you don’t have that kind of reach or [a way of] getting your foot inside the door, it could be extremely difficult because you don’t know who to talk to.

So it seems that you’ve been planning this for a while then?

RIC: For forever!

BON: But it was only last year when we said “Let’s start it” when I told Ric I would be leaving Design for Tomorrow.

RIC: The pandemic made him reassess what he really wants [to do]. If you work in design, your work is always beholden to the needs and wants and the taste of the client. But here, he was looking for something meaningful that he really, really loves. We were looking at each other and thought, “What do we do?” And then we had an aha moment because what do we both like? Magazine and art. It clicked instantly.

But we have been dreaming of this ever since we started traveling for work. You will be amazed by the really amazing titles that are undiscovered. We were thinking, “Why is there nobody like this in Manila?” If nobody’s going to do it, that’s our opportunity. There are no more well-stocked magazine racks in the Philippines. The catalyst was, when the pandemic happened, when we could not find any local magazine distributors. [Then] we saw this particular space downstairs from our office [in City & Land Mega Plaza] which feels like a neighborhood, isn’t too isolated that it’s in a commercial hub, and isn’t too large to be intimidating but not too small that it can only carry 15 titles. And it got the wheels in motion.

We feel the time is right to introduce an idea like this for Manileños who are missing titles from the racks of the big book chains.

spruce gallery monocle radio

Photo of the Monocle Radio by Jar Concengco

spruce gallery

Photo by Jar Concengco

Were you scared at all, considering that those who still read and collect print magazines are such a niche market?

RIC: Of course! The thinking of Bon was, if we love this, there are probably 100 people in Manila who love it the same way I do. If we get all the 100 Manileños who love magazines, we’re in good business because that’s all we need! What we witnessed when we went on soft opening were people [who] traveled from all over Metro Manila just to check this place out. That gives us a little bit of encouragement.

That’s so great to hear especially coming from a time when we thought “print is dead.” Now, you see all of these independent print titles flourishing.

RIC: I think that’s only here [in the Philippines]. When you go abroad, even in Taipei or Bangkok, the zine market is really big and people really support them. [If you think about it] magazines have to compete with books and [people’s] interest. I mean, if you put a magazine in a bookstore, they have to work triple times harder to be seen because when you go to a bookstore, you’re looking for books. You’re not thinking of magazines, you’re thinking of books. That’s why a lot of people were saying that “Print is dead.” No, it’s not dead. You’re just not giving them the opportunity to discover how wonderful magazines are, and that’s the mission of Spruce.

I’m curious, what are your favorite magazines?

RIC: (laughs) This is a question I dread!

BON: I always say this, but the only magazine I think that I always pick up is Apartamento Magazine. I can read it again and again. I don’t really like finishing it. I don’t like it to end. It’s something different. It’s very authentic and it’s a different kind of interior design [magazine] because they feature interesting people and their interesting houses where they don’t curate the look of the space. You really see the personality of the individual within the space. Also, the interview is very candid and conversational. I think that that’s why they have been publishing since 2013 and they’re still thriving and they still have the same look. They just stay authentic.

RIC: I’ve been collecting magazines since 1995. That’s why it’s difficult for me to pick a favorite. My favorite five probably are Design Anthology from Hong Kong and Melbourne, Monocle from London, It’s a Passion Thing from Vienna… There’s another favorite design magazine that I love from Munich called nomad. Now, I highly recommend INQUE Magazine from the Editors of PORT. Sablos is very interesting from Barcelona. What else? Oh, my God. Those are some of my favorites!

spruce gallery

Photo by Therese Aseoche for WhenInManila.com

Do you have dreams of one day making your own magazine again?

RIC: Maybe one day at a time. For me, if I exit Design for Tomorrow in the future, I really want to be an editor again. I cut my teeth doing editorial projects in my younger years. But I think unless we have something unique to say… because how can you compete with all the titles that we’re carrying here? When you open the page and your mind is blown by so much creativity and uniqueness and things to be discovered? That alone can be very intimidating, because what else can you say when you’re already surrounded by people who do things in a very spectacular way? But for now, the focus of Bon is to really champion all these amazing, amazing discoveries and bring them to the Manileños who are hungry for these discoveries.

BON: I think the publishing [industry] now is a different ball game. Before, if you’re a fashion magazine, just compete with the same fashion magazines. Now, if you’re an interior magazine, you will compete with an art magazine or a gay magazine or queer magazine. It’s not just about competing in your same lane. You will compete in a different, a bigger landscape. You really have to be unique and have something different to show.

RIC: The shelf space is getting more and more crowded with equally independent voices vying for attention. You have to think of how you will differentiate yourself. I mean, you’re crowded by thousands of other mastheads in a space. How can you craft a unique identity and create a loyal community that will sustain your editorial mission? This is what Kinfolk and Design Anthology and Monocle are very good at because they have loyalists, very fierce, loyal, loyal subscribers and readers.

Just a few more questions. What do you envision this place to be?

BON: I think from the start, we envisioned this space to be a champion for independent voices, not just our favorite independents from other places, but specifically the local voices that we have. We also want this to spark interest again with print. I think there are a lot of local printmakers who just need assurance that we have a space on a shelf somewhere. We want to spark the revolution, an independent revolution, again, with print.

RIC: It’s really the idea of a special place for discovery. We noticed people who come in there, they do not just go in, grab a title, and go out like what you do in a bookstore. They really linger, they discover. You can always hear the audible gasp when they go here for the first time, and then a little bit of a stifled shriek when they see something interesting between the covers. We live for those moments because we are them in another country! Bon and I always asked ourselves, “Why don’t we have this in Manila?” I think partly because people think that Manileños are disinterested. No, we are the most culturally clued-in people. We rank in internet usage because we’re hungry for all these novelties and new ideas that will widen our world. That’s one of the missions of Spruce: broadening horizons, championing independent voices, and always being a crucible of creativity. And we would like to build a loyal following of people who think in the same way.

You two have always been asking yourself “Why don’t we have this in Manila?” and I would like to say thank you for bringing this to Manila! When I came here to Spruce Gallery, I immediately spotted some of my favorite Japanese magazines and was surprised by how much more affordable they are than if I buy them from other stores or resellers.

RIC: It’s fulfilling when you delight people in a surprising way! When we were planning even the pricing of the magazine, we decided that we were not going to price it like the big bookstores. We are thinking of college students, say, who really love a certain magazine but can’t afford to spend so much on it. That’s why part of the strategy is working directly with the sources so that instead of putting on a profit, we pass on the savings to the people who really love magazines. We wanted this to be a love letter to the world and we also would like to establish this place as a love letter to Manileños who really love magazines.

And honestly, this place feels like every magazine lover’s dream come true.

RIC: For the longest time, print has been dumped in the most uninspiring space. You need to think, “How do you want the people’s experience to be?” Here, we put the Monocle radio that’s streaming the Monocle24 station while you’re flipping through a Monocle magazine. It’s a totally different experience than just popping into a bookstore and they’re playing, I don’t know, pop songs that you do not like. Here, the seamlessness of the design, the experience, and the purposefulness of why we’re championing some of the titles that we love are all thought through before we even actually had this physical space. We were imagining all these things in our minds. We have been dreaming of this for years.

spruce gallery

Photo by Jar Concengco

spruce gallery

Photo by Jar Concengco

Spruce Gallery

UG3, City & Land Mega Plaza, ADB Avenue corner Garnet Road, Ortigas Center, Pasig City

Open every day from 11 AM to 8 PM

Do you have a story for the WhenInManila.com Team? Email us at story.wheninmanila@gmail.com or send us a direct message on WhenInManila.com Facebook Page. Interact with the team and join the WhenInManila.com Community at WIM Squad! We also share our stories on Viber, join us!