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Halloween Brings Influx of Customers to Washington Costume Shop

  • Luis Velarde

Scene outside the Backstage costume shop in Washington, DC

Scene outside the Backstage costume shop in Washington, DC

Millions of Americans will dress up in costumes for Halloween on Monday, October 31. Children in costumes traditionally go trick-or-treating - walking house to house in their neighborhoods to be given candy on Halloween, and many adults use the day as an excuse for costume parties.

One popular store selling Halloween costumes is Washington, D.C.’s Backstage Costume Shop.

“I don’t care how much I spent. The look is all I care about,” said longtime customer, Coretta Brown. “This is my favorite store; I’ve used this store for years. And they pretty much have a variety of anything and everything.”

One of the popular costumes this season has been curly wigs of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. And while the profit on the wigs is low, because of the high cost of last-minute production and overnight shipping, customers get what they’re looking for.

“We always have to be on the tip of whatever we do... my costumers are repeat customers. Sometimes I only see them once a year. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and I see the same faces every year. That’s what makes me happy, a repeat customer,” said Backstage’s owner Sandy Duraes.

Backstage makes one third of its yearly income during Halloween season in October, so competitive prices, variety of products and “good” customer service are essential.

Most Backstage customers spend $40 to $60 on Halloween costumes without professional makeup. Prices vary and can range from $1.99 for a pair of retractable fangs, $9.99 for a Gadhafi wig, $20.50 for a “dictator” tunic, and up to $30 for a gallon of fake blood.

The shop’s staff quadruples to 16 to cope with the busy season. They also help sew, rent and fix costumes for other holidays - such as New Year’s Eve, Easter, Mardi Gras, and masquerade parties. Reports say nearly 40 percent of Americans begin holiday shopping before Halloween.

Clark Cummings had planned to shop around from a variety of stores in the D.C. metro area, but says word of mouth redirected his search here to Backstage.

“I’m going to spend probably what I spent last year, 60 to 80 bucks. People tend to spend a little less money than I do, but money is tight and you don’t want to spend too much on Halloween stuff, that’s kind of inconsequential,” he said.

Duraes said she knows the recipe for a successful business in a tough economy, and why eight similar stores have gone bankrupt in recent years in the Washington area.

“They don’t know what they’re doing. I know what to do. They think they’re going to get all this cheap [merchandise]. But people still want to look good; they want to get one good piece. We sell more of our expensive wigs than our programmed-to-be-trashy costume wigs because they look good in them,” she said.

A survey conducted by BIGresearch forecasts growth of 2.8 percent in retail sales during November and December, with the average person spending more than $130 on themselves this holiday season. Discount stores remain the most visited, while department stores also will see a boost in their numbers.

Nearly 63 percent of Americans say the weak U.S. economy will affect their holiday spending. To compensate, consumers will compare prices from different stores, the report says. But, as Duraes found with Gadhafi wigs - having the right product at the right time can bring in customers.

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