Number of Stores: 3 permanent and 2-3 temps.
Average Square footage per store: 4,500
Showroom Square footage: 10,000
Location: Rochester, Henrietta & Victor, NY
Phone: (585) 482-8786
Year Opened: 1957
Ted Vayos, BODY: Describe your store.
Arlene Stephens & Donna White: Arlene’s Costumes is a unique shopping experience where guests can escape the typical packaged costume boredom and shop with our experienced, energetic, professional staff among rows of freshly pressed, easily accessible costumes. The environment is fun, relaxed and inviting in a family atmosphere. With over 55 years in business, we have worked with local businesses, theaters and not for profit organizations to make some of the most exciting events happen in Rochester, New York and across the country.
We have three permanent locations in the Rochester area. Our flagship store is located on Portland Avenue near Route 104 and Rochester General Hospital. This beautiful brick-front facility offers traditional Halloween costumes for children and adults as well as makeup, accessories, and novelties to meet theatrical, business, school, and of course Halloween needs. Retail costumes, theatrical makeup and accessories occupy the front half of this well-planned store while the Rental department with its full costumes, hats, shoes, and jewelry resides in the back.
The other two permanent locations are in Marketplace and Eastview Malls. During the Halloween season we open two to three temporary locations in surrounding areas. Our furthest reaching location is our virtual one. We have a fully active and functioning website complete with online ordering. Our Facebook and Twitter pages as well as our Blog support these locations telling followers and friends alike of our specials and special events as well as giving ideas for costuming and makeup.
Ted: What makes your store special?
Arlene & Donna: Arlene’s is vested in the community. We live here. We are a family here. In 2008 we acquired the Santa Chair from our region. All of our own children had sat on Santa’s lap at this mall that was being imploded and everything was auctioned off. The chair is available in our rental department and does go out yearly to our local town halls. Our customers feel that sense of family. Almost anyone who has lived in the Rochester, NY area in the last 55 years has been to Arlene’s at some point - for a school project, Christmas, work, theater, party and especially for Halloween. In addition, many of our competitors while wonderful in other fields, try to make costuming into a fast food, one day only event. We see costuming as an all year all-encompassing passion.
Ted: What do you look for in a brand?
Arlene & Donna: Many of our brands and vendors have been with us for years. We look for a reliable company with a solid reputation in the industry, well-made products and excellent customer service as well as to a lesser degree a good deal that we can pass on to our customers in the form of savings. Some of our most valued brands include but are not limited to Rubies, Forum, California Costumes, Charades, Elope, Jacobson Hats, Mehron, Ben Nye, Halco, and Leg Avenue.
Ted: What are the latest trends?
Arlene & Donna: Our styles and trends may vary year to year with popular culture including movies, music and television. However, we have several mainstays in the form of Halloween classics like vampires, witches, pirates, cowboys, costumes from specific eras in history and even newer classics such as fantasy and role play costumes that are popular every year despite the fickle attitude of American pop culture.
There is one other trend that we have seen in the last few years. The renting of costumes is making a comeback. Our guests want high quality for a reasonable price. They also want to be truly unique which is best accomplished in our rental department.
Ted: Describe your price points and size ranges.
Arlene & Donna: We have prices in our Retail and Rental Departments geared toward all budgets and priced from economy to the most deluxe based on quality and current market value. Retail costumes average $30-70. Rental costumes with their unique quality average $40-70.
There is no typical size when it comes to costumes. That is why we focus heavily on providing a variety of styles, fits and sizes in both Retail and Rentals. We have found a great demand for teen, petite, and plus sizes for men and women and work tirelessly to accommodate all of our customers’ needs.
Ted: What does the average customer spend per visit to your store?
Arlene & Donna: The average spent in retail is $30-50 and in rental it is $50-80.
Ted: Describe your customer.
Arlene & Donna: While women ages 18-60 tend to be our most likely customer, we see guests from all walks of life and every age especially at Halloween time. We also cater heavily to our business, theater groups, schools and not for profit organizations.
Ted: What else can you tell us about your stores?
Arlene & Donna: Arlene’s Costumes was founded in 1957. My mother, Mildred “Molly” Stephens, and I owned a vintage clothing store called The Next to New Shop located on East Main Street in Rochester, New York. We used to watch the neighborhood children dress in garbage bags each year for Halloween. We decided that this was our calling and started making outfits for the neighborhood kids. They loved our costumes. We were doing very well but unfortunately my mother was not. Her failing health forced me to move the costume shop to its long-time home at 1156 Culver Road in Rochester. My sister, Donna, joined the business and became my partner. Rentals such as overhead parade outfits and vintage period costumes were the main attraction at that time.
As business grew, the Retail Department became more and more popular. In 1982, we opened a new one-of-a-kind 500sq ft retail store front in addition to the already impressive rental space. Over the years, we even outgrew that space and opened seasonal locations in Western New York area shopping malls and plazas. At that point we were bursting at the seams. We looked for several years to find the perfect location and eventually brought Arlene’s Costumes to its current 10,000sq.ft showroom on Portland Avenue in Rochester in 2003.
Today we have fifteen full and part-time employees and over 50 seasonal employees each year. We work with over 40 vendors in the industry.
We also dedicate much time and energy to charities and community groups near and dear to our hearts including Strong Children’s Charities, The Strong National Museum of Play, the YMCA of Greater Rochester, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and several groups that raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.