From Grateful Dead groupie to tie dye guru

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starhawk and tony

Starhawk (on the left) and his brother Tony Arcuri keep Greenpoint colorful. Photos: Regina Mogilevskaya

Jerry Garcia once nicknamed Starhawk “The Kid.” The co-owner of Greenpoint’s Starhawk Design Studio doesn’t really keep track of time in a conventional sense, but he reckons this was sometime back in the 70’s, when he was touring the country with the Grateful Dead. Though born in Brooklyn, he left home when he was a teenager.

“I always had faith that travel was the right choice,” Starhawk tells me with a gleam in his eye as we stand across from one another in his shop, chatting as customers mill about picking up crystals, smelling incense, and browsing slowly through hangers swimming with tie-dyed shirts, skirts, leggings, arm warmers and socks.

Touring with the Grateful Dead is just one chapter in the dizzying book of Starhawk’s life, which includes stints with Peter Gabriel and Ziggy Marley, residence on the beaches of Hawaii, pop-up tie dye shops from Pennsylvania to California, and plenty of meditation in between.

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Photos: Regina Mogilevskaya

It all started with a dose of color. “The first thing I ever tried to tie dye was a butterfly on a t-shirt,” says Starhawk. He never studied art of any kind–or attended college–but from a young age he loved gobbling up texts about ancient cultures. He’d always felt a strong kinship with color, and his inspiration sprouted from studying indigenous clothing designs, out of which came a near-obsession with American tie dye techniques. For years, he traveled the country creating and selling his custom-made tie-dye clothing, as means of self expression and to support himself.

How Starhawk ended up Greenpoint after decades of kaleidoscopic nomadism is a story of simple fate. He and his brother, Tom Arcuri–who shared with me that he was in the clothing industry, though not on the design side, for “about 42 short years”–decided to start a business together. In 2015 they had a pop-up shop on Manhattan Avenue for a couple of days, and when they spotted an empty storefront for rent just two blocks from that location, they decided to make Greenpoint a permanent home.

“On paper, this shouldn’t work,” Tom, who is the more conventional of the brothers, at least in conversation, tells me knowingly. “In theory, a tie-dye store in the middle of Greenpoint in 2016 shouldn’t work, but somehow all the stars are in alignment.”

And it’s true–in the brief time that I spent in Starhawk Design Studio on a random Tuesday evening customers did not stop walking through the door. Many seemed to be Greenpoint residents–some were obviously not–and while ages and faces ranged, Tom and Starhawk knew many of them by name, continuing conversations started days prior, with a rapport as warm as it was colorful. “I’ve lived in a lot of places, but I love the energy of New York,” Starhawk tells me as he shows a pair of customers a gorgeous singing bowl. “Everyone here is creating something all the time–nobody’s walking around in circles. “We set up shop here in Greenpoint and I just feel watered all the time.”

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Photos: Regina Mogilevskaya

To watch the brothers mill around the Starhawk Design Studio is to watch two very different energies sizzle and play in the warm space. They each breathe distinctive life into the business: Starhawk whips up custom designs, airbrushing everything from dolphins to peace signs to Elmo onto shirts, hoodies and onesies, while Tom does the actual tie-dyeing. Starhawk often works on the sales floor, in a little artist’s nook they’ve set up for him, and if you walk by at night, after store hours you can often see him there, still creating. Not only have they kept their store awash with their prismatic designs, but they’ve also created banners for High Times, as well as panels for MoMA PS1, sweeping bursts of rainbow colors that served as the backdrops for stage performances this past summer.

Still, it appears that the two brothers feel most at home under the fluorescent lights at Starhawk Design Studio, candles burning. They marvel that something as fun and as simple as tie dye can create such a sacred space for such a wide variety of people. “People come in here, and they’re so open-minded,” Tom tells me. “They’re always telling us how good they feel when they come into the store.”

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Photos: Regina Mogilevskaya

Truly, it’s tough not to. The oils, the stones, the books, the statuettes–everything on the shelves at Starhawk has arrived there through a personal connection, often from people who Tom and Starhawk have met over the years through both travel and work. The shop radiates goodness–and peace–in a very palpable way. The products are nostalgic and lovely, the prices fair (socks are $5, t-shirts start at around $20), but most of all it’s the idea of the thing: two brothers whose singular goal is to fill their store with bright things that will make people happy, objects that will better the life of any sort of soul that strolls in.

Later that evening after I had made my way out of the shop and arrived home, I started feeling around for my keys and I located something else instead–a healing stone that someone had mysteriously slipped in to my bag.

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