Shop Talk: Vintage Costumes
Spotlight on: Scottdale, Pa.
From dusty barn to rustic retail
Ten years ago, an old barn was swept of dust, removed of chicken roosts and transformed into a rustic retail shop.
Brian Corcoran, owner of Vintage Costumes LLC in Scottdale, Pa., had been involved in the world of automotive sales and Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and found putting on something for Halloween was a kind of relaxation. So after years of privately putting on parties and figuring out costuming for them with old costumes and vintage clothing that had been stored in trunks, he decided to pass that fun on to everyone else.
"Vintage Costumes LLC came about after years of dealing with an old mom and pop costume shop," Corcoran said. "They mentioned that since I had a love of Halloween and an old barn out in the country, I should try my hand at renting some of my old costumes."
So one fall they passed out some flyers for advertising, opened the bottom of a barn Corcoran owned out in the country and waited. To their surprise, they rented all 40 costumes they offered and had customers complimenting the rustic ambiance. The business is out in the country - not too far away from major metropolitan areas but away from the hustle and bustle - has been going strong ever since.
Oldies, but Goodies
They expanded to use the entire second floor of the old 68-foot-by-36-foot brick and wood poultry barn, complete with old stairs and floors that creak, rafters with real cobwebs, old windows used for display and old antiques and props. They also threw in the smell of wood smoke from an old potbelly stove and gave out candy for everyone.
"We wanted to make shopping for your favorite holiday as fun as dressing for it, so we offered a rental for $35 and included all the accessories," Corcoran said. "We were asked by customers about costuming for the other seasons and special custom made orders, so we made the decision to stay open year round."
As customers enter the shop, a cross section of everything is on display and in operation. From one piece to a truckload can be had, and if you don't see it, they might just have one in a corner or packed away.
"I have dug stuff out of my attic and closet, saying, ‘Give me a minute, I had one of those years ago!'" Corcoran said. "Turning a fantasy into reality is another aspect of what makes it all fun."
The inventory is made up of retail items and items people have brought them from estate sales, auctions and trunks filled with clothes from their parents and they lean more towards rentals than sales. Special orders are often sales, as this is normally a mascot or costume that will be used more than once by the customer or for one purpose.
"Rentals are not as time consuming as costumes made from scratch, as sizing, material, special effects, etc. that go into manufacturing are a longer process and so not as desirable," Corcoran said. "Some material for costumes isn't made anymore, so it makes it hard to repair and replace one-of-a-kind costumes. But the end result on the customer's face makes it all worthwhile."
They also go on location for set up if needed for things like Victorian teas or Murder Mysteries and bring props, special effects, mascots, make-up services, etc. If we don't have it, we'll try to locate it with other shops. Corcoran said they'll do anything possible to make it fun and help the customer achieve what they have visualized.
"People often walk in with an idea of what they want and come up with a totally different costume after looking around," he said. "So we keep a close eye on trends, but don't stray too far from our Vintage Costumes type of look and what sets us apart."
Even though they cover all the holidays and seasons, Halloween is something that they never really stop thinking about throughout the year. Gearing up for Oct.31 consists of both new and used additions, phasing out and replacement, testing of props, wear, repair, inventory etc.
Corcoran said they're always rearranging Halloween items on display to remind customers that it's something that they specialize in and that they should come back for. Everything is out where the customer can see it, touch it and try it on. Corcoran added that they just help with finding stuff on their journey of costuming themselves.
"We wanted to be known as a kind of a place to reminisce and be a kid again, but we had no idea this would carry us in various directions with different holidays, special custom made orders, on-location events and decorating, Victorian teas and personally adapted murder mysteries, to name just a few," he said.
"We were contacted for a small boy to be dressed in a Marine formal uniform as a ring bearer for a Marine wedding," he continued. "They got us the buttons and we were able to make the entire thing that turned out amazing. We have so many people who ask us as a last ditch effort and can't imagine that we make it happen. They come back with pictures, hugs and tears and tell us we are the best kept secret they ever found."
Corcoran said that they continue to keep in mind what got them started - the people. They haven't changed their prices in more than a decade, something Corcoran said they owe that to the folks who helped them by coming back every year.
"Today, it's hard to not pass the cost increase along to the customer, but everyone's in this together," he said. "If you came to us for a costume, how about a costume at the same price from years back when your parents first brought you in?
"My philosophy is simple, but perhaps sometimes long forgotten," he continued. "Everyone in business started in the same place - in the beginning. Don't ever get too big to forget that."
By Abby Heugel