The mystical, fantastical South Street store Mineralistic is closing after 35 years

Sal LaMarco will never forget the burly South Philly man who walked into his store, Mineralistic, looking for a pink crystal that some people believe promotes love and healing.

“He wanted a rose quartz but he was talking like he was buying drugs because he didn’t want anyone to hear him,” LaMarco said.

He didn’t hold it against the shy guy. Heck, in 1989 when LaMarco started his business — which specializes in crystals and tumbled stones but has sold everything from meteorites to dinosaur fossils — he wasn’t into all that metaphysical stuff either.

But now?

“I don’t want to get too woo-woo mystical about it but once you’re around this stuff every day, you can’t deny it,” LaMarco said. “I don’t know if it would affect anybody else the same way, but it just became very obvious that there was some positive elements to metaphysics that could benefit people.”

But unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there’s no Time Stone in this one to turn back the clock. Business at Mineralistic has steadily declined since 1998 and for the last six or seven years, LaMarco and his wife, Janice, have been the store’s only staff.

And so, after 35 years, the couple is preparing to close their shop and take some time for themselves.

“Nobody wants to work seven days a week,” LaMarco said. “But we do love this place and we love the people. Because of that our whole existence revolves around here — our social life, our economic life, so this is a big transition for us.”

Written in stone

LaMarco was working as a production manager in New York City’s garment industry when his divorce from his first wife propelled him to Philly in the late 80s, where he had relatives and the cost of living was cheaper.

His nephew wanted to start a store and LaMarco had the money. So in May 1989 they opened Mineralistic’s first location, a small space at 608 S. 4th St., where they sold mostly crystals, minerals, and wood carvings.

LaMarco said his inspiration for the name came from Madonna’s song, Material Girl, about being a materialistic girl.

“I just took that and added mineral to it,” he said.

Janice LaMarco, a Northeast Philly native, was living on 4th Street at the time and began working at the store for LaMarco on weekends when he went to visit his daughter.

The South Philly couple don’t remember exactly how their romance took root (they agree it was likely over drinks) but they do remember both of their weddings. The first was in 2004 in the front seat of a Nissan 350Z convertible at the drive-thru of the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas and the second was the following year in New Jersey during a snowstorm and an Eagles playoff game at the Linc.

The mythical interior

Mineralistic remained at the 4th Street location for four years, during which time LaMarco bought out his nephew and began expanding his inventory. Sal and Janice LaMarco then moved the store to 335 South Street before landing in their current location at 319 South Street in 1996.

The space was previously home to the Snyderman-Works Galleries, and its owners Ruth and Rick Snyderman rented the space to the LaMarcos.

The couple teamed up with John Christinzio Jr. to help design the store’s fantastical interior. A team of seven artists painted a cloud-covered blue sky on the tin ceiling tiles, green marbling on the decorative molding, and scenes of hot air balloon rides and lizards on the walls.

The open staircase to the basement, which has a sign that reads: “Staff only all others shall be…Devoured,” features a painting of an angry dragon surrounded by skulls at the bottom and sculptures of human hands reaching down from the ceiling above.

Even the tree branches decorating the store were sourced locally, right out of Fairmount Park, LaMarco said.

The mythical interior design paired perfectly with the store’s offerings and theme, even if the LaMarcos have a tough time defining exactly what that theme is.

“It’s stuff nobody else has the nerve to sell,” Sal LaMarco said.

‘A lesson in ego’

While stones, crystals, jewelry, and statues have been mainstays, Mineralistic has carried everything from chess sets and water fountains to meteorites and dinosaur fossils.

Today, only one large fossil remains, the head of an 85-million-year-old mosasaurus. A few years ago, LaMarco sold his beloved triceratops fossil that hung on the wall for more than two decades.

“I miss it a lot. It was almost a lesson in ego,” he said. “I realized I was identifying myself too much with possessions.”

LaMarco still has other treasures he won’t part with, like a meteorite from Argentina he traded for “a clutch of seven dinosaur eggs plus cash” and a large amethyst geode carved into the shape of an alien’s skull, which he may have purchased after one too many beers.

“I bought it and I’ve never been happier. I carried that thing around like a baby for two days when I first got it,” he said. “People come in all the time and ask for it but it’s not for sale.”

While the store’s shelves are emptying, there’s still plenty of discounted items for the taking, including crystals, stones, and jewelry; steam punk clocks, skulls, and mirrors; and statutes of fairies, Egyptian gods, dragons, demons, bats, cats, and cat bats.

Over the years, Mineralistic had three real store cats too — Jet, Furball, and Woodrow. They were all black and all rescues, but all have long since passed on.

‘The real gems’

When customers come to Mineralistic seeking stones or crystals to help them with a specific issue — like health, money, or love — Janice LaMarco, who knows the meaning of each piece, helps guide them.

“People come in looking for stones to bring them something, just like Jack and the Beanstalk,” she said. “We get people in here all the time asking what brings luck. I don’t tell them anything is good for luck. They’ve got to bring it themselves.”

Sal LaMarco said belief in metaphysical things like crystals helps to a fill a hole for some people.

“If you want to bring it down to a word it’s comfort. It gives people emotional comfort,” he said. “When you look at something that’s beautiful, whether it’s a person, a scene, or a stone, that opens your heart and once your heart chakra is open, everything else follows in line.

Mineralistic’s customers are as eclectic as the store itself and the LaMarcos have been in business so long they have regulars that shopped at the 4th street store who bring their grandkids in now.

But Sal LaMarco openly admits that “not every customer has left here happy.”

Online reviews on Google and Yelp are sharply divided. In one camp are people who said they received “great customer service,” the owners were “friendly and helpful,” and the store had a “soothing energy” and “amazing vibes.”

But other reviewers said they experienced “terrible,” “odd,” or “rude” service and that the store had a “negative energy” and “unwelcoming atmosphere.”

One Yelp commenter said: “You have to earn your respect and friendly attitude, don’t expect it.” Then, there’s the reviewer who broke it down for everybody.

“These reviews are very polarized, and I get it. Welcome to Philly y’all! You don’t like it, then get out, and if you like what you see then hurry up…Yes people have their own opinions, yes the energy is raw and abundant, but these two folks are the real gems of the store!” Kamea Freedman wrote on Google reviews.

Sal LaMarco said he tries to be civil, but admittedly, does better on some days than others.

“I have a life outside of this place. I also have a life inside of this place and a lot of times things are difficult and it’s very difficult to be Mr. Rogers when you’ve got personal issues,” he said. “I do my best but for the people I pissed off, I just want to say I’m sorry. It wasn’t anything personal.”

‘Good for each other’

The LaMarcos began thinking about closing their shop about two years ago. When they both suffered illnesses last December and were unable to open the store for holiday shoppers, “it was the final nail in the coffin,” Sal LaMarco said.

“In a way, that was a blessing because if that didn’t happen they’d probably bury me in here,” he said.

The LaMarcos don’t know what will happen to the space, which they rent, and they don’t know exactly when they’ll close. They’re trying to sell as much merchandise as possible before shutting the doors, but Sal said he doesn’t see Mineralistic remaining open beyond May 1.

They’ve been slowly breaking the news to customers as they come in and, in turn, have realized just how important their store was to so many.

“Philadelphia’s been pretty good to me and I’m very grateful. I mean, I’ve been good to Philadelphia too,” Sal LaMarco said. “We’ve been good for each other.”

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