'Tis the season to be scary and ghoulish Halloween week keeps costumer busy

October 30, 1990|By Cindy Harper-Evans

Yes, it's the day before Halloween. But to the Rutledge Costume Co. on Park Avenue, the few weeks before this ghastly, ghoulish celebration have all the selling power of the Christmas season.

Serious-looking business people in gray suits, students, housewives and others with a desire for make-believe have been coming into the shop in full force recently to rent killer bumble bee costumes, Lone Ranger gear and medieval-warfare outfits -- most of which have been handmade by the store's 35-year-old co-owner, Anita Rutledge.

"This is the 13th month for us," said Fred Rutledge, a Unitarian minister who owns the shop along with his daughter. "In this last week, we have done the amount of business we usually do in a full month."

Ms. Rutledge said Gov. William Donald Schaefer ordered his Halloween costume from the shop, "but he doesn't want people to know what he is until the day. But it is black and historical."

The rent for costumes and props ranges from $15 a day for a hat to $125 for a showgirl outfit with feathers and a headdress. Ms. Rutledge also will sell custom-made items, though she concedes that her prices are high.

"People come in and ask how come that mask over there is $10 and yours is $100. I say it's because I've made it, because it's an original and not mass produced," she said.

Despite the high prices, Ms. Rutledge said, the store has yet to turn a profit, though business has increased from $1,000 a month to $3,000.

"Designing costumes takes a lot of time, and there are very few people I can find to help, and the overhead is high," Ms. Rutledge said. "It's not like this business is supporting me. I'm supporting the business."

The Rutledge costume shop was the brainchild of Ms. Rutledge, who started out making troll outfits for dolls at the age of 7 and selling them to her friends for a nickel apiece.

The shop sits in a tiny corner building east of Lexington Market at 317 Park Ave., the window with the costumed mannequins jutting out from the boarded-up buildings, fast-food Chinese restaurants, liquor stores and hair salons that make up the rest of the block.

The costume shop has been around for less than two years. For 42 years before that, the shop was a ballet supply store called Jode.

The popular costumes this year for Halloween have been flappers, gangsters, Dick Tracy and the Fred Flintstone cartoon character, Ms. Rutledge said.

Despite the obvious benefits Halloween has for any costume shop, the Rutledges said the occasion is hardly their only bread and butter.

Ms. Rutledge does costume work for promotions by area businesses, clown companies and street theater. Her 1914-style dresses and hats appear in the opening scene of Barry Levinson's movie, "Avalon." She also has done work for casino showgirls.

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