Spotlight On: Party Heaven
Being a costume retailer near major college campus keeps things interesting
There is rarely a dull moment at Party Heaven in Berkeley, California. The store is located on Bancroft Way, literally across the street from the University of California Berkeley, traditionally one of the most progressive and diverse college campuses in the country.
“We are on the main drag between the Urban Outfitters and Jamba Juice so the majority of our business is students or campus employees,” store manager Korynn Knight said. “Frequently there are group theme parties for the business school, the co-ops or the Greeks. However, we are never informed of the party theme until we get a steady stream of business two days before.”
Party Heaven was originally called Paper Heaven when Yvonne and Jules Weiss founded it in 1978. As the name suggests, their primary focus was stationery. While the location has changed and there was a second store at one time, two things have remained the same: Yvonne and Jules still own the business and the city of Berkeley has always been home.
“A lot of people are still discovering us, while to others we are the store they grew up going to,” Knight said. “We have a loyal clientele of interesting people.”
Interesting, indeed. Berkeley has long been a haven for social change and protest. Customers, whether students or otherwise, aren’t shy about voicing their opinions. “There are definitely costumes that sell in the mainstream that we cannot ever sell here,” Knight said. “Cultural costumes are a veritable minefield next to a college campus that prides itself on being multicultural. Believe me when I say the college students are not afraid to let you know if they find a cultural costume outrageous. The worst are the majority of ‘Asian’ costumes that I find incredibly offensive.”
Other styles that might be considered costumes are just normal dress. “Goth is just a way people dress every day,” Knight said. “I’m always surprised at how much space costume catalogs give to it — it’s a pretty rare costume request here.”
All the cultural events in the Bay area means there are always chances for people to dress up in various themes. Knight noted the Bay to Breakers race, Burning Man-themed camps, Harry Potter camps, zombie pub crawls, theater groups, themed parades and a variety of fairs as regular business. “We recently had one of our customers featured as a zombie on an episode of ‘MythBusters,’” she said. “We get a lot of people doing masquerades, mystery parties, superhero themed races, going on cruises with theme parties, costume-themed weddings and wig parties. Of course, we also have people with just a general desire to wear an animal onesie as daywear.”
Party Heaven’s bestselling products are actually accessories, rather than full costumes themselves, as costumers often opt to build their own costume.
“We sell a lot of bandanas in various patterns, costume hats, wigs, flapper accessories, and glasses,” Knight said. “We sell a ridiculous amount of nerd glasses. Space themes are incredibly popular here now and I get a lot of requests for sea life-related costumes. Our most popular color is gold, which is one of the colors of three of our local sports teams: the A’s, the Warriors and the 49ers, as well as Berkeley High School and UC Berkeley.”
While accessories, party supply items and costumes are the top-selling categories, the store offers a wide range of products.
“Jules and Yvonne have always believed a diversity of product is key to their survival,” Knight said. “We started as a novelty gift and stationary shop and still carry single stickers from the roll, art postcards, balloons, party and bachelorette items, Beanie Babies, mugs and lunchboxes, novelty socks, hosiery and lingerie items, craft items, giftwrapping and whatever the college students on the campus think is trendy.”
- Where: Party Heaven, 2570 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, California
- Store size: 1,800 square feet
- Staff: Three full-time employees and one part-time most of the year, but staff grows to around 10 during busy Halloween season
- What they sell: Party supplies, balloons, men’s and women’s costumes, novelties, cards and giftwrap
- Online: www.partyheavenberkeley.com and Facebook