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Shop Talk: Screaming Mimi’s Vintage

When Laura Wills started Screaming Mimi’s Vintage in 1978, her vision was a shop where yesteryear’s clothing meshed with modern-day fashion. Forty years later, her store ranks among the to-go spots for New Yorkers looking to create looks that will turn heads at Halloween and theme parties.

“There were a few vintage stores, like what I call ye olde, selling parasols and pantaloons, but nobody did it from a modern perspective that really looked at current fashion and what was happening around the world,” Wills said. “I always did it from that perspective. The biggest compliment to me would be if someone came into the store and didn’t even realize it was vintage because it was styled so well.”

Screaming Mimi’s is located on W. 14thStreet in The Village. Its current location is relatively new, however, as Wills moved her operation two years ago from its longtime home on Lafayette Street, about a mile away.

The shop’s mission and reputation remain firmly intact, so much so that Target tabbed her to put together its 2012 Halloween look book. 

Wills and her style-conscious staff stock Screaming Mimi’s with anything and everything that could be used to create the perfect period costume, including classic clothing, accessories, wigs and props. When Wills opened in 1978, it was Roaring ‘20s and ‘50s parties that were popular. Today, it’s all about the ‘70s and ‘80s.

“Had I just bought up everything out when I opened, I would be sitting on a fortune now,” Wills quipped.

Wills has established Screaming Mimi’s as a Halloween leader in the country’s biggest cultural hub, New York City. She is always on the lookout for vintage items and props to sell at Screaming Mimi’s. Wills also attends the Halloween & Party Expo annually to scout new products and trends from around the country. 

 

The experience

Wills’ keen eye for product keeps Screaming Mimi’s unique inventory stocked, but she knows it’s a one-of-a-kind experience that creates loyal customers. The experience is based on the staff’s knowledge, but probably more so, their enthusiasm.

“We create an environment for our customers,” Wills said. “They want style from head to toe, and they want to look original. These are the people giving the big parties and they don’t want to see themselves coming and going. … We give people individual attention and I think that’s really important at Halloween. That’s something that the internet can never touch.

“I’m a big believer in the future of brick-and-mortar. I really believe, especially at this point, that people want that personal attention.”

Wills said some customers do call ahead for appointments, but most come in at the spur of the moment. Some enter with specific ideas, while others walk in not having much figured out much beyond a general theme. 

“Seventies theme parties are huge — not just at Halloween, but because of shows like ‘The Deuce,’” she said. “So we’ll ask them, ‘Are you thinking late ‘70s with Studio 54 or more ‘Wild and Crazy Guys?’ We try to find how far they want to go with it. Do they just want a ‘70s shirt or do they want to go with the platform shoes. 

“We start with something small, but then they’re like, ‘Give me more! Give me more!’ We’re so enthusiastic and people feed off that and really get into it.”

Props are a big focus, too. 

“If we see a quirky accessory, like a boom box for the ‘80s, we’ll definitely go for it,” Wills said. “We love to have props. We think it’s fun for partygoers to have a prop to play with.”

Wills used an example of “a Wall Street guy” who, at the insistence of his wife, has to buy something for a ‘70’s theme party she’s making him attend.

“He walks in not really wanting to go, but by the time he leaves, he’s thrilled about it,” she said. “We ask him his (Zodiac) sign because I make these horoscope necklaces. The guy is done from head to toe and he’s over the moon. 

“Those are the people that always come back.”

Something the business is known for beyond its selection and service are its creative window displays. 

“We plan out our Halloween window all year. We think hard about what is going to be a really strong theme for our customers,” Wills said. “We have this great display guy (Eric Vidmar) who builds it according to what we want to feature.”

The window display included a 1980s-focused collection this year. 

Screaming Mimi’s draws business year-round, but Halloween is definitely its busiest season. Wills said it was about 20 years ago when she realized how big Halloween could be for Screaming Mimi’s and made it a primary focus.  

“It just gets bigger every year and people want more elaborate costumes,” she said. “This is a high-pressure and high-stress world — people just want to be something else for a night, just completely go into a fantasy world.

“We love that and we love to help them do that.”

Originally posted Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019