If you are like me, you have fond memories of the costume’s you have worn through out your childhood. I remember being a nurse, a pirate, a fairy, a witch. Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays.
If you are from Rochester, New York, or lived there anytime in the last fifty years, chances are you got your Halloween costume from Arlene’s Costumes. Female owned and operated for over 60 years, it is a staple of the community. Terry Sinopoli, Marketing Manager, is the third generation of women in her family to work at Arlene’s Costumes and was kind enough to answer some questions for us about this fascinating and unique business.
Please tell me about Arlene’s Costumes – who started it? What was the original purpose?
Terry: Arlene and her mother, Mildred “Molly” Stephens, ran a small shop on East Main Street in Rochester. The Next to New Shop was a vintage and consignment clothing store. Arlene and her mother Molly paid close attention to the conversations of their customers. Harried mothers talked about the need for costumes for their children, something unique that would befit the imaginations of their children, and the unspoken competition between kids for best costume. On Halloween, Molly and Arlene would watch women scramble to make costumes out of material and embellishments or even garbage bags. That is when Arlene and Molly went to work making costumes for children in the neighborhood.
The mother-and-daughter team soon outgrew their retail space, renamed the shop as Arlene’s Costumes and moved to our long-time location at 1156 Culver Rd in Rochester where we sold and rented costumes and accessories. Rentals are still a unique offering even in our own industry.
Over the years, what are the biggest changes that have occurred inside the company?
Terry: In 1995, we started doing airbrush face painting and temporary tattoos for parties, schools, colleges, sporting and corporate events. Our colorful designs can stay on for 1 – 3 days depending on skin type and care or can be removed with liquid soap or a little rubbing alcohol. We use makeup, not paint, which is non-toxic, safe and FDA approved for application on skin – face or body. Our application process using airbrush guns makes our designs much more hygienic than traditional face painting.
We are the official Airbrush Face Painters of the Rochester Lancers, Red Wings and the Buffalo Bills. We have participated in the City of Rochester’s New Year’s Eve Event, the Town of Greece 4th of July Festival, Country Club of Rochester 4th of July Celebration, the Canandaigua Country Club 4th of July Celebration and the Town of Sweden 4th of July Festival. We have been the exclusive Airbrush Face Painters at the Lilac Festival for over 25 years.
We have over 500 different stock designs to choose from for your next event. This is not your typical face painting. Our process uses vibrant color theatrical make up that is applied to 60-80 people in an hour. It is hypoallergenic and removes with liquid soap or wears off in a couple days. We apply the make up with the use of air brushes and compressor using stencils. We provide the operators and all necessary equipment.
In 2003, we out grew the Culver Rd space and moved to our current 10000 sq ft showroom at 1225 Portland Avenue in Rochester.
In 2015, we took our one-stop disguise shop to a whole new level. Always a company that stays on top of trends and technology, we started selling beyond own own website and started with Amazon, then with eBay, and with Walmart.
We have recently been doing a warehouse sale, to sell off some of our retired rental costumes and accessories, as well as discontinued items. They have concentrated on marketing to theater groups, cosplayers and schools. The sale will be expanded to include more brand-new discontinued costumes and accessories. The store owners expect a greater volume of customers because of Halloween and the deals they are offering.
How did you get started with the company?
Terry: I have worked seasonally for the shop since I was 14. I would take the bus to our first satellite store in Northgate Plaza in Greece, NY (a suburb of Rochester), work my grandfather or cousin until 8 PM and then they would take me home.
I started full time with the company in 2014 as the Marketing Manager and took on a role in our online sales as well.
With what is going on with the world due to COVID-19, how has Arlene’s Costumes changed?
We have changed the way that we clean our costumes and accessories. We have always had a washer and dryer in the back room which is very unique for retail companies. We also steam and use UV-C Lights on those items that we cannot wash.
We also had to become more creative by offering appointments and grab-n-go (our version of curbside pick-up).
What are your biggest sellers at this time?
Terry: Mandalorians of all kinds! Tin Man Hats, Poncho style costumes, ghosts of all kinds, humorous costumes – it’s a crazy year!!
When we are not in the Halloween season – how does your business change? What are your biggest sellers then?
Terry: Our business changes every season. During Christmas we sell and rent Santa, Mrs. Santa, elves, Reindeer and other Christmas Critters. During Easter we offer Eater Bunny retail and Rentals. We also have Renaissance, Pirates, cosplay wigs and accessories, theatrical makeup and so much more.
What are the biggest issues with running this type of business?
Terry: We are at the mercy of special events happening or not happening. When movies were not released and people didn’t celebrate as much in traditional ways it affected the way people bought costumes. On a positive note, we have seen more people being creative in their celebrations and zoom calls. Halloween this year is a way for people to enjoy the celebrations that they may have been missing out on all year. Being a full moon, on a Saturday and the night of Daylight Saving Time makes it even more special!
Where to find Arlene’s Costumes