Inside Manhattan Neon: Hoboken’s Custom Sign Shop

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This summer a new kind of business arrived in Hoboken, transforming 650 Newark Street into a studio dedicated to a rare artistic medium: neon. Inside, artisans with decades of experience bend glass tubes into letters and other shapes, then illuminate them with the dazzling gas.

While the family-run business is new to Hoboken, you might already be familiar with its work: Manhattan Neon has created neon, LED, and other large-format signs for iconic New York City landmarks like Madame Tussauds as well as hip brands like SoulCycle, Anthropologie, and Intermix. Film and television production companies also come to Manhattan Neon when they’re building sets — Amazon Prime’s Emmy-winning show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel rented a vintage General Electric sign, a clock, and other pieces from the shop. Keep reading for more about this one-of-a-kind business that’s found a new home in Hoboken. 

manhattan neon hoboken

The Story

Marilyn Tomasso grew up in the sign-making business. Her family started a sign company after World War II, and her husband, Pat, started working for them after they married. Then, in 1984, the couple branched out and started Manhattan Neon. Their son, Peter, joined the company after college.

Everything changed this year — after 35 years in Manhattan, their building, Chelsea Terminal {near Hudson Yards}, was purchased by a new owner, and their lease renewal unexpectedly fell through. The family struggled to find a new home for their business in the city. That’s when they decided to set up shop in Peter’s longtime home, Hoboken. Manhattan Neon’s entire staff followed them.

“It turned out to be a blessing,” Marilyn said.  

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The Space

manhattan neon clocks

The first thing guests will notice when they enter the white building at 650 Newark Street is a wall of a dozen neon clocks. It’s Marilyn’s collection. Over the years, she’s acquired commercial clocks from gas stations and antique clocks from a famous Cleveland company. The Manhattan Neon team refurbishes them.

“It’s wonderful to get an old one,” she says. “If the neon doesn’t work or the clock motor is gone, it doesn’t matter. It’s fixable.”

macys sign

Garage-style glass doors let plenty of natural light into the studio’s front room, which also contains rows of wooden work tables. Marquee signs that say “MACY’S,” “LIQUORS,” and “D’Aiuto Baby Watson Cheesecake” stretch across the walls. 

In another room, designers map out new projects beneath a white neon sign that says “POWER.” A hallway leads to another room where a worker blows into an instrument attached to a glass tube. Nearly every inch of wall space is lined with more neon signs of all shapes and sizes.

The Process

mahattan neon inside

Neon signs are the product of a complicated handmade art. The signage style exploded in popularity in the 1940s but fell out of favor by the 1970s, replaced by plastic signs with fluorescent bulbs. Now, interest in neon is resurfacing. 

To create a neon sign, a worker known as a glass or tube bender blows into a straight glass tube while heating it over a flame. When a portion of the glass becomes soft and pliable enough, the bender moves it to a non-flammable surface and manipulates it into the desired shape. The process is repeated until the shape is complete, then electrodes are added to the ends of the tube. Gas fills the tube and an electric current makes it glow. 

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At Home in Hoboken

Manhattan Neon has worked with plenty of famous clients, but anyone — from local business owners in need of vinyl signs for an event to brides-to-be interested in a unique piece of wedding decor — can order a custom sign. 

80 river hoboken

{Photo credit: @80riverhoboken}

Restaurants and other local businesses have already started working with Manhattan Neon. For example, 80 River Bar and Kitchen {previously Cadillac Cantina} opened in September and has already become an Instagram backdrop, thanks to a custom Manhattan Neon pink sign over the staircase that reads “Keep it sexy Hoboken.” 

“Peter wants to do every neon in Hoboken,” Marilyn says, laughing. “It’s our neighborhood now. It’s our community.” 

Have you ordered anything from Manhattan Neon yet? Let us know in the comments! 

Did you know: We started a podcast about all things news and lifestyle in Hoboken + Jersey City! Listen to the latest episode of Tea on the Hudson here and subscribe.

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Francesca is an editor in the features department of a national food magazine, where she writes about everything from the latest grocery and restaurant trends to the strange history of ketchup. She grew up on the Jersey Shore and couldn’t bear to leave her home state when she got her dream job in the Big Apple. After eating an unforgettable bagel sandwich in Hoboken, she decided to make the Mile Square her new home. She enjoys new books, Villanova basketball, and long walks through Trader Joe’s.