A 23-year-old moment

Present Moment offered alternative healing long before New Age was new

Bob Gallagher’s vision for Present Moment hasn’t changed in 23 years. It’s about helping people heal mental, emotional and physical problems with herbs, flower essences, homeopathy remedies, vitamin supplements and reading. He believes such remedies are healthier than the medical drugs mainstream America chooses.

The store is what one would expect to find in San Francisco, Greenwich Village or Sedona, Arizona. But as it happens, it’s tucked away in the Kingfield neighborhood at 3546 Grand Ave. It’s a kind of walk-in herbal clinic and metaphysical bookstore for those who prefer herbs to pharmaceuticals, the spiritual to the religious, the homeopathic to the allopathic, and the counterculture to the mainstream. Gallagher’s surrounded himself with a retinue of loyal, long-term employees who share his vision.

"One rule is that everything we do promotes the living spirit," said Gallagher. "It’s a definitive focus and it is what has kept this store going for so long. Maybe it’s a little dogmatic on my part, but it works for me."

He handpicks all the books he sells. The store’s collection includes a large inventory on subjects like Tibetan Buddhism, shamanism, spiritual healing, health, channeled works, ancient religion and mythology. The store also offers seminars and workshops on organic gardening, aromatherapy and yoga.

However, Gallagher recoils at the term "New Age" because of its flaky connotations — and also because he opened Present Moment’s doors several years before the term was even coined. "New Age isn’t really new, since it takes its basic tenets from old traditional religions and builds upon the work of people like Carl Jung and Edgar Cayce," he said.

William Decker lives just a few blocks away from the store and likes to browse through their stacks. "When it comes to books on topics of spirituality they have everything from soup to nuts," Decker said. "It’s as good a collection as I have ever seen anywhere.

"There is a lot more comprehensive information available here than you can get at Barnes and Noble or what you can see on TV," he said. "As a seeker of spiritual wisdom, it makes you realize how controlled the media is in this country."

Andrew Lucking, a naturopathic doctor who has worked out of a basement office at Present Moment for 15 years, calls what they offer complementary medicine. As a trend, he said, it is becoming more acceptable to middle-class society because people are taking more responsibility for their individual health, especially since medical care has become so expensive.

"It’s not alternative or a substitute, it is complementary," Lucking said. "It fits inside a well-balanced health delivery system. There is no substitute for a tumor extraction or taking an X-ray or setting a leg. Herbal medicine can’t do that. But it can work for other problems."

Lucking graduated from Seattle’s Basytr University in 1989. He attended the school of natural medicines after graduating from pharmacy school and earning a chemistry degree. He said many of his patients come to him suffering from fatigue that in many cases is due to the stress in their lives. He treats his patients with herbs, nutrition and vitamin therapy. While he said he has had good results, he complained that price gouging in the herbal industry is, in some cases, making his treatments as expensive as the pharmaceutical treatments.

Gallagher’s emphasis on non-chemical, non-synthetic, non-pharmaceutical remedies brought him to the study of homeopathy in the 1970s. He studied the science of herbs at the Dominican Herbal College in British Columbia. He described homeopathy as a sort of vaccination using small amounts of plants that in larger doses would produce symptoms of the disease itself. He also teaches a course in homeopathic medicine at the store.

Herbalist Duane Givens has been selling herbs at Present Moment for the past 10 years. There are over 500 domestically grown organic herbs available. He learned his trade from Gallagher, his grandmother and through his own reading. Behind his table are five shelves filled with books on the topic that he reads diligently, including what he considers his herbal Bible, "The Energetics of Western Herbs — Treatment Strategies Integrating Western and Oriental Herbal Medicine."

Givens said that his business has grown because people have become weary of pharmaceutical drugs and their side effects.

Awana Perry, a massage therapist who lives in the Powderhorn neighborhood and is the mother of a young son, has been a customer for two years. She came to Givens for help with her son’s pollen allergy. She had tried eye drops to alleviate his puffy eyes, runny nose and sore throat but he did not like to take them, so she bought a mixture of eyebright, comfry and cherry elm bark that Givens recommended. She steeped it in a tea ball and gave it to her boy for a week. It alleviated the problem.

Lucking said a large part of his clientele has nothing to do with alternative ideas. Many of their customers are immigrants from Eastern Europe and Asia coming in for traditional herbs from their native homelands like chickweed and white oak bark or herbs associated with the holiday season like Orris root and rose petal for potpourri.

"Plants not only have a physiological action but also a spiritual action, and it is the spiritual action that makes them heal," said Gallagher. "And that’s part of the philosophy of the store. It’s unlikely that will fade away anytime soon."