Offbeat treats

Written by Bill Rautenstrauch, for The Observer October 23, 2013 09:17 am

Recycling Halloween costumes and clothing items that can be used for costumes is big business for Marlene Hays and Stephen Barton of the Royal Clothiers used clothing shop. (BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH for WesCom News Service)
Recycling Halloween costumes and clothing items that can be used for costumes is big business for Marlene Hays and Stephen Barton of the Royal Clothiers used clothing shop. (BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH for WesCom News Service)

La Grande secondhand clothing shop scares up business with unique costume offerings 

If you happen to spot Raggedy Ann hobbling down the street on a walker in the next couple of weeks, don’t be alarmed. It’s Halloween, after all, and Halloween brings out the kid in most everybody.

Marlene Hays and Stephen Barton, owners of the Royal Clothiers secondhand clothing store downtown, know that fact well. Halloween’s one of their favorite times of year, both for the money it brings in, and the fun they have helping people get dressed up for the occasion.

They’re delighted that this year they had the goods to put an octogenarian lady into the character of forever-young Raggedy Ann. It’s been a high point of the season so far.

“We had the total Raggedy Ann costume, the wig, the dress, everything,” Hays said. “The girls who bought it for the lady said they’d send pictures, and we can’t wait to see them.”

Originally from Britain, Hays and Barton came to La Grande by way of Ohio, Nevada and California. They moved here six years ago to be near their daughter, Tajah.

Three years ago, they bought the former Clothes Closet, a long-established secondhand clothing shop on Adams Avenue. After some renovations, they opened as the Royal Clothiers.

The couple has lived in the United States long enough to know all about Halloween, but they confess to some ignorance about it in their early years as U.S. citizens. The closest thing in England is Guy Fawkes Night, celebrated Nov. 5 and marked by fireworks, bonfires, and children begging for “pennies for Guy.”

“It’s similar, but kids beg for money, not sweets,” Hays said, adding that her first Halloween in America caused her some amazement.

“Our kids came back with pillowcase after pillowcase of candy, and we couldn’t believe it. Of course, as far as they were concerned it was a very good thing,” she said.

With they opened their second hand clothing store, the couple realized they were in a good position to help people get the most out of the holiday. They learned there are plenty of buyers who go out to a big box store and buy a costume off the rack, but many others who insist on the unique and unforgettable.

Miss Piggy dressed as a stripper? There’s such a costume on sale right now, displayed in the front window.

“A lady actually made it by hand. She wore and brought it here when she was done,” Hays said.

Used clothing of all styles and vintages come through the store, and all year Hays and Barton keep alert to things with Halloween appeal.

Those include head-to-toe, ready to wear costumes like Raggedy Ann or Miss Piggy, and clown suits, southern belle ensembles, and others. They also include bits and pieces, like Hawaiian grass skirts, or capes, or top hats.

Not long ago, to a Halloween shopper, Royal Clothiers sold a pair of “caveman shorts,” lined with faux fur.

“Anything coming in that is whimsical, offbeat, and different is stored away for Halloween,” Hays said.

Come October, Hays and Barton dedicate 25 percent of their floor space for Halloween items. Barton said part of the fun is having customers come in with only a partial idea of what they’re looking for, or no idea at all.

“We’ve got a great diversity of stock, and our imaginations. If somebody can’t think of a costume, we’ll help create it,” he said.

On their counter during the season, the couple keeps a huge book containing photos of thousands of Halloween costumes. Barton said that’s helpful for people who are building a costume from scratch, know what they want it to be, but don’t have all they need to complete it.

“Sometimes they’re going as a current character. We look it up, find a similar costume, and then figure out if we have the piece,” he said.

Across the nation, Halloween is big business. A survey done recently by the National Retail Association says that Americans plan to spend $7 billion this year, including $2.6 billion for costumes.

The study doesn’t say whether the $2.6 billion includes money spent on recycled Halloween apparel. What Hays and Barton know for sure is that people in Union County love to celebrate the holiday.

“Our first year, we were really taken back by how big Halloween is,” Barton said.

Added Hays, “Next to Christmas, it’s our biggest holiday of the year.”