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Spotlight On: The Costume Shoppe

Minnesota store all about clowns and costumes

By Zeke Jennings | ppredit@partypaper.com

Tricia Manuel is a clown-of-all-trades. Manuel started in the clown business as Pricilla Mooseburger, a goofier version of herself, and then began manufacturing costumes in the late 1980s. The clowning around reached new heights in the mid-90s, with the opening of the Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp and The Costume Shoppe, a full-service costume rental operation.

Located in rural Maple Lake, Minnesota (about an hour northwest from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area), the Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp offers instruction on all aspects of clowning, including balloon-twisting, face-painting, juggling, magic tricks and much more, all from nearly two dozen industry professionals.

The Costume Shoppe recently moved to a larger location in Maple Lake, which has meant improved organization and revenue, Manuel said. The rental store has established strong ties with area schools and surrounding communities. The store employees four people, including two full-timers, and subcontracts out stitch work.

PPR: How long have you been in business and what led you to this industry?

Tricia Manuel: I started Pricilla Mooseburger Originals in 1989. We manufacture professional clown costumes for clowns all over the world. Since we were already manufacturing and had a storefront with extra room, the costume rental shop in 1995 seemed like a natural progression. 

PPR: Beyond costumes and accessories, what products and services do you offer?

TM: (We offer) theatrical makeup, face paints, clown makeup, clown wigs and clown supplies.  We also provide face-painting services during Halloween. One area of customer service we are most proud of and successful in, is outfitting high school casts. We schedule an after-hours fitting to give the students our full attention and the nearby coffeehouse stays open so the kids can have dinner; it makes the director and students feel special, which results in long-lasting relationships with the schools.

PPR: What do you find the most challenging thing about running the business?

TM: Not enough hours in a day. As the owner I wear many hats and I am quite fond of all of them. But it is tough to stay focused when you are pulled in so many different directions.

PPR: A town of 2,000 people is pretty small to support a costume shop.

TM: We are on the edge of the metro area, between the two big cities of St. Cloud and St. Paul. Folks can get to us in 45 to 60 minutes. Greater Minnesota has very few full-service costume shops. People come from all over central Minnesota to rent from us. Sometimes they mail the costumes back to us. We have beautiful one-of-a-kind costumes at reasonable prices. Because we really love dressing people up, our customer service and unique selection is worth the drive! We also offer a flat-rate discount for schools. We know they only get so much money per student in activity fees. This helps the directors not blow their budget and helps support the arts in school.  

PPR: What led to the move?

TM: We were running out of space. I wanted to expand my rental business to do more school plays and I just didn’t have the room. Halloween was a real nightmare. I was able to add an additional 1,000 square feet to my retail space. I now have a private office that no one has to walk through to get to the copy machine. We also have an additional 4,000 square feet in the basement. We have improved our design area, laundry storage and office space. Organization has improved 100 percent and that means money saved.

PPR: What advice would you give a retailer looking to change locations?

TM: Do your homework. It took two years from the time I had the itch to move until I could find the right place at the right price. Don’t be afraid to comparison shop remodeling services. 

PPR: Many small retailers struggle to maintain a website and social media presence. How have you been able to pull it off?

TM: People are moving to electronic media in droves. Being up-to-date with Facebook, our website and other social media is key. I am smart enough to have hired someone younger and smarter than me to do that job. Thanks, Katie (Serrano). She’s our resident technology geek.

PPR: How do you balance the three endeavors?

TM: I always joke that I am a neurotic overachiever. My brain always seems to be working on the next idea or problem to solve. It keeps life interesting. And I pray a lot! 

PPR: How much time do you spend working as a clown and providing instruction for others?

TM: Daily. The clown part of our operation is huge.  Running one of the longest-running clown schools in the country, Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp, and being the largest manufacturer of professional clown costumes keeps you busy. Clowns call every day for advice and to order products. And I am on the road teaching at clown conventions many times a year.

PPR: What topics do you cover at the camp?

TM: When I travel to clown conventions, I sell my costumes and products as well as teach in the workshops. Personally I like to teach makeup and performance techniques. At our own camp in Minnesota, I love to take on the beginners for my Clowning 101 basics course. I have 20 top-notch staff teaching all aspects of clowning. Many are former Ringling Circus clowns, others are the best in their fields, which include balloon-twisting, face-painting, magic, hospital clowning, storytelling, prop building, parades, school shows, juggling and character development.

PPR: What is the most fulfilling thing about being a clown?

TM: The smiles. Knowing you’re helping adults as well as children forget about their troubles for a while. We live in a stressful world. Everyone could use a smile. Teaching clowning helps people come out of their shell so they can share their joy with others. It is a win-win!

PPR: How are Pricilla and Tricia alike?

TM: Pricilla is just and exaggeration of who I am … a natural goofball. When I am in my costume and makeup, I have the courage to take it to the next level. 

PPR: What advice would you offer someone looking to work as a clown?

TM: Be careful. Clowning full-time is tough unless you are working for a big company like a circus or an amusement park, etc. You need to live in a larger metro area to get enough work and you have to hustle every day. Sometimes it then becomes a job. Doing it part-time is a better way to keep loving it and not get burned out with counting how many jobs you need to pay your rent.

The Costume Shoppe | Pricilla Mooseburger Originals | Mooseburger Clown Arts Camp

Where: 116 Division Street W., Maple Lake, Minnesota

Phone: 320-963-6277. Fax: 320-963-6692

Online: www.mooseburgeronline.com; www.thecostumeshoppe.us; www.mooseburger.com/moosecamp

Originally posted Monday, Mar. 7, 2016

Tags: costumes, shop talk