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Small Business Spotlight: Arlene's Costumes

Brett Davidsen
Updated: August 12, 2020 07:00 PM
Created: August 12, 2020 03:21 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — Here at Arlene's Costumes in Rochester, you can be anyone or anything. From a creepy clown to a dinosaur, Robin Hood or a Mardi Gras reveler. For 64 years, it's been Rochester's go-to costume location for any occasion.

"I anticipate it to be around forever, but it surprises me that so many places have come and gone and you just have to stay on top of it," owner Arlene Stephens said.

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Started by Stephens and her mother Molly, the store opened initially as a vintage clothing shop.

"As they were doing their business, they realized people were looking for costumes. They needed costumes for events and functions," Terry Sinopoli explained.

Sinopoli is the marketing manager and Arlene's niece.

Here you'll find elaborate costumes, masks, wigs, jewelry and shoes. While most costumes are for sale, about 30% of the business is rentals.

"We have some new masks that are really cool for this year," Sinopoli said. "We have great new costumes that are amazing, and we do take a lead from what's going on in the world of movies and music."

Truth be told, we had originally planned to feature Arlene's back in March— leading up to the St. Patrick's Day Parade and the Ugly Disco, two events that draw lots of customers to this store. But then coronavirus canceled the events and forced Arlene's to close its doors. 

"It was anxious, but I had faith," Stephens said. "We've gone through a lot with the business, ups and downs. More ups than downs, but I knew we'd be back. There was no question in my mind."

It's been a while since the "open" sign flashed in the window. But last week, they unlocked the doors to walk-in customers.

"I really wanted to be the one to come down and unlock the door and it was a good feeling to do that," said Stephens.

Arlene's never really went away, though. They continued to operate online.

"We were able to keep going with home order with grab and go local pick-up service and we can ship pretty much anywhere across the country, so we were able to keep going with those things," Sinopoli said.

Now they're counting down to Halloween, their biggest time of year, and keeping their fingers crossed that the coronavirus won't disrupt another holiday.

"Halloween is going to be a very big year this year. It's on a Saturday. It is a full moon -- for those a little on the superstitious side, and it is the day of daylight savings. So you get an extra hour to party should you be able to go out and do that," said Sinopoli.

As for her favorite costumes over the six decades, Stephens says that would have to be the ones her mother made. She still keeps a few in the store. But more than the costumes, Stephens says it's the people that make things interesting.

"My favorite thing about this whole business is my customers, because while I was gone... I just felt like I was just missing so many of my friends. I was missing all my friends," Stephens said.

If you know of a local small business we should feature, email us at spotlight@whec.com.


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