Launching four years ago, Tombolo—founded by childhood friends Mike Sard and Chris Galasso—makes apparel that plays on classic, kitsch souvenir garments. It’s become a treasured “inactivewear” brand, beloved for its breezy, whimsical, nostalgic style. Existing online, as well as selling at pop-ups and events across the city to Montauk and beyond (the waiters in White Lotus even wore their pasta shirts), Tombolo recently opened their first permanent, brick-and-mortar home. The store (which used to be Nolita Chemists) is also an event space and gallery, which the brand’s lighthearted nature permeates. We spoke with Sard and Galasso about the appeal of a brick-and-mortar store, maximalism and escapism.
Tombolo is an NYC-based brand that embraces the city (partly through the DSNY collab) but provides an escape that’s far from here—Hawaii, Cuba, the Mediterranean, the Adriatic and beyond. How do you feel the combination of resort life and vacation play off a big city vibe through the space?
Having our store ensconced in the bustle of New York City supports the sense of escapism that we want to convey. Tombolo clothing is designed to transport you to a different time or place or state of mind. The flagship store should do the very same thing. You should feel like you’re in a very different New York when you step into our store, but still in New York all the same.
Lots of the direct-to-consumer businesses that have popped up over the last decade or so manifest their brick and mortar presences in a really sleek way: matte-painted sheet rock and minimalist furnishings. Our store pivots hard in the other direction: patina, found objects, eclecticism and lots of personality.
It’s also part gallery for pop-up exhibitions and events, what are you most excited about now having a physical place to welcome people to?
Many facets of the store are modular and adjustable—we kept the original pegboard from the pharmacy that used to be in the space—so we’re able to constantly reimagine the space to showcase what’s new in the world of Tombolo. One week the space can resemble an art gallery in homage to our latest artist collaboration, and the next it can celebrate a festive new champagne-themed shirt. It’s the traditional playbook of a rotating window display taken to a more ambitious level. We can also transform the store to host major events. Perhaps this is all just an excuse to throw parties!
Tell us about finding the store and what drew you to choose it—was there something extra special about the space and the neighborhood itself?
Our love affair with this space at 208 Mott St just north of Spring St has been a long time in the making. We first toured it all the way back in 2019 when we were popping up nearby and fell in love with Nolita as a fit for Tombolo. We nearly finalized a deal before COVID struck and our dalliance had to be postponed. But after touring the whole neighborhood, absence had made the heart grow fonder and this space was still our absolute favorite.
We loved the location and saw it as a perfect canvas for a very eccentric concept—it used to be a pharmacy that had been closed for some time and had seen better days. But we set out to design it like a dilapidated fish market and present the illusion that Tombolo had simply dusted off this fish shop, slapped on a coat of paint, and moved in. This “ghost concept” beneath the Tombolo finishings made for an incredibly fun buildout and some wild signage that we’re really proud of.
What do you hope customers leave the store feeling—is it the same mood you hope to share with those who shop online?
It’s the same feeling and mood we hope to share online, but know we will always fall short of achieving. There’s no substitute for the visceral experience of stepping foot into a space we’ve completely cultivated as the world of Tombolo. From the scent to the soundtrack to a souvenir section of items from around the world, we hope customers leave the store thinking, “That was… different.” Ideally different in a good way!
Images courtesy of Tombolo