Brick and mortar stores will always have a special place in my heart. I firmly believe that retail shops focused on hyper-specialization help build communities and create culture.
Manic Panic is known the world over as the go-to standard for quick and easy hair color in a wide variety of vibrant colors.
In 1977, Bronx natives Tish and Snooky Bellomo, opened Manic Panic in the East Village on St. Marks Place between 2nd and 3rd Aves. This was right across the street from Trash and Vaudeville, another NY institution selling punk rock fashions and accessories which had opened two years prior.
The two sisters started hanging out at the legendary Max’s Kansas City and began singing back-up for local proto-punk bands and drag reviews. Their unique style made them tastemakers in the early days of NYC punk. Their store began as a curated vintage shop hawking reworked thrift store finds and deadstock 50’s and 60’s clothing the sisters would find on the Lower East Side. The sisters also imported hair dye from England and other extreme cosmetics unavailable at the time.
The rent was cheap, and the neighborhood was still mostly junkies and burnt out hippies, but business grew as did the scene surrounding the neighborhood, and it grew quickly.
By the mid 1980’s St. Marks Place would become ground zero for the Lower East Side art and music scenes, complete with mainstream recognition. The Manic Panic storefront even made an appearance in the movie Ghostbusters II as neighbor to Ray’s Occult Books which would have been right at home on St. Marks if it existed in 1984.
Eventually, the shop was forced to move from its original location because, in true New York fashion, the landlord who bought the building on this now trendy street did not renew their lease. Although Manic Panic was off the block, their influence was undeniable, and although St. Marks is very different than it was even 20 years ago, their spirit and vision still resonates.
By the time the original St Marks shop closed Tish and Snooky had begun to formulate their own line of hair dye under the Manic Panic name. With the store front gone, the sisters began wholesaling their vibrant palate of hair dye, eventually making Manic Panic a global brand.
For an depth interview with Tish and Snooky with some more great photos, check out this Atlas Obscura interview.