After 47 years, costume shop to close

After Halloween, one New Haven store will put away its spooky costumes for good.

Halloween masks inside the closing Costume Bazaar, a costume store that have been in New Haven for 47 years.
Halloween masks inside the closing Costume Bazaar, a costume store that have been in New Haven for 47 years.

This weekend, Yalies will take part in longstanding Halloween traditions, from the midnight Yale Symphony Orchestra concert to pumpkin carving in college courtyards. But for the Costume Bazaar, a New Haven store that has sold wigs, masks and other festive paraphernalia to Yale students and other New Haveners for 47 years, Oct. 31 will mark the end of an era.

The Russell family, which has owned and operated the Costume Bazaar since its founding, has sold the rights to the business and must vacate its property by the end of the year. The new owners, whom the Russells declined to identify, intend to continue providing tailored costumes to school and community theater groups, but there are no plans to continue selling the Halloween outfits that brought customers to the store’s State Street location.

“The game has changed,” said employee Rob Signor, who said he has worked at the store during the Halloween season for decades. “Now everybody and their brother are selling costumes.”

With big-box stores like Wal-Mart and Internet retailers offering cut-rate Halloween costumes, Signor said, independent costume stores like the Costume Bazaar have suffered. To stay competitive, the store is offering 50 to 70 percent discounts for the Halloween season.

Owner Jeff Russell said that he is not selling the business because of increased competition. Russell added the bulk of the Costume Bazaar’s revenue has always come from its sales and rentals of professionally tailored costumes to theater groups, including the Yale Repertory Theatre and other dramatic organizations on campus.

This side of the business has proven reliable even during the economic downturn. On Monday afternoon, two seamstresses were sewing in the rear of the storeroom.

Several racks’ worth of additional clothing to be altered, most for the drama departments of area high schools, surrounded their sewing machines.

“We ship all over Connecticut,” said seamstress Patricia Kenney, who has worked at the Costume Bazaar since the 1980s but has no plans to continue under the new ownership.

Before the family entered the costume business, Jeff’s father Joey Russell played Happy the Clown on New Haven children’s television in the 1950s. But it was his mother Josi who took the Russells’ closet full of costumes and started a business by selling them.

In 1964, Josi opened the Costume Bazaar in downtown New Haven on the corner of State and Grove. Eight years later, the store moved four blocks farther south on State Street.

Russell said he remembers Bill Clinton LAW ’73 and Jodie Foster ’85 frequenting the store, which at the time was only four blocks from the Yale campus.

In 1989, the Russells moved the store to its current location, at 1593 State St. near the New Haven-Hamden border. The site is over two miles from campus.

Still, the Costume Bazaar remains popular within certain segments of the Yale community. Stephen Pitti, the master of Ezra Stiles College, has shopped for Halloween costumes with his children at the store for several years.

“It is nice to support an independent business,” Pitti said.

The Baker’s Dozen are also longtime customers, often shopping there to buy costumes for their spring jam.

“They’ve always been really great to us,” said Travis Gidado ’12 of the Baker’s Dozen. According to Russell, the feeling is reciprocal.

Still, he said, it is time to move on into “something different.”

Halloween falls on a Sunday this year.

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