For nearly 45 years, the Denton staple has provided schools nationwide with well-crafted costumes for theatrical productions and supplied costumes to theaters, events, film productions, cosplayers and is a go-to for Halloween rentals. It’s also an LGBTQ-friendly destination, especially for drag queens.
When theaters shut down and schools closed or limited after-school events earlier this year, Rose Costumes became dependent on every sale to survive, as do many local businesses crumbling under COVID’s unforgiving grip. Business owners and employees say it’s urgent that communities rally around their favorite local shops and spend their Christmas budget — at least partly — patronizing those local stores they hope are still around when the recession lightens up.
Rose Costume's show manager, Kayly Nesser, says there are many ways shoppers can spend their money on local businesses while staying COVID-safe.
"Please buy from that website," Nesser says of rosecostumes.com. "Even if it's a gift card. If you don't see anything on there that you want right now, if you buy a gift card, you'll be able to use it on that site or once we reopen to the public — fingers crossed."
When the store began losing orders in March, they started selling inventory online. Nesser says owner Annemarie Aldrich is paying employees out of her own savings. The company set up a GoFundMe two weeks ago, and they've already received $15,000 from supporters. But, it will take about $100,000, Nesser says, "to hold us over through the rest of all of this."
Nesser says she came to work at Rose Costumes four and a half years ago as a "rescue from corporate retail," and her work in the shop has allowed her to bond with the children she's seen come through for school play fittings throughout the years. Her work there has given her other memorable experiences. too: She fondly remembers a coworker helping a trans teen boy wear his first tux to prom.
"I just fell in love," she says of her workplace. "It's really special. And it just became so much more than I ever could have expected."
Online retailers like Amazon may be convenient, safe and fast — checkout is made even faster when they have your credit card on file — but they lack this kind of personal exchanges. When the pandemic is over, many shops, restaurants and other small businesses will be gone — likely for good. Because of COVID (and the allure of free shipping), North Texas will be poorer for these losses, a potential soulless wasteland of franchised restaurants and chain-everythings.
“I want people to know that little businesses, any small local business, is run by a person just like you." – Kayly Nesser, Rose Costumes
On the bright side, one look at areas like Bishop Arts on a recent weekend shows Dallas' shopping destinations are still bustling with shoppers who want their money to serve a dual function: browsing for non-mass-produced gifts while rebuilding COVID-ravaged communities. Still, online shopping has been a monster of a competitor for mom-and-pop shops.
But many local shops offer safe alternatives to buying in-person, such as online shopping or curbside pickup. This year, Black-owned businesses and local boutiques have focused on making their websites more appealing to customers looking to stay away from crowds.
“I want people to know that little businesses, any small local business, is run by a person just like you," Nesser says. "If that person has real stock in what they're doing, they understand that you want to be safe and they also want you to be safe. So if you're worried about no contact, they're going to be ways for them to do no contact for a local business."
Long-standing institutions like Rose Costumes is one of many gems at risk of extinction.
Bucks Burnett, owner of vintage vinyl shop 14 Records in Dallas, says that while his business model is different and his shoppers normally have to browse through the store's selection, he's happy to do curbside pickup for customers.
"A lot of these businesses in Dallas alone are not gonna be here in a few months," Burnett says. "We're literally fighting to stay alive, and I hope people will consider that when they spend their money."
He has seen shoppers make more informed decisions about where they spend their money, he says, specifically looking to support local shops, but there's only "a little of that going on." And while Burnett says he does "respect anyone's decision to buy online out of safety," he doesn't think safety is always a motivator.
"I do think a lot of people are shopping online and not out of regard to safety but because it's Amazon and it's quick and it's cheap," Burnett says. "Same with restaurants — people are eating fast-food and their local diners and cafes are gonna go out of business."
But his point is not to shame Amazon lovers.
"What I tell people is try to split your money 50/50," Burnett says. "Spend half of it online, spend half of it on a local independent business. We don't live in a world where you just can just not buy online. That's not realistic for anybody. Try and go 50/50."