Checking in on the Chicago Costume Shop at the Middle of a Culture War

The debate over capitalism’s ills turns to a 45-year-old store and the billboard that now enshrouds it

The Chicago Costume store that's in the middle of a cultural controversy.
Instagram/Spirit Halloween

Halloween is rife with tradition: jack-o-lanterns, trick-or-treating, drunk crying in a cat costume. A thoroughly modern addition is the Spirit Halloween meme, which makes fun of how the company slides in to take over shuttered businesses moments after the “out of business” sign goes up. 

So what does Spirit Halloween do when faced with a competitor that’s still alive and kicking? We got an answer to that question a couple weeks ago, when the company — worth an estimated $8.4 billion — placed a billboard directly outside of Chicago Costume (4727 W. Montrose Ave), a family-owned, year-round costume shop that’s been around since 1976. 

In this case, it earned a well-deserved skewering on social media for its preemptive strike. When Andy Rowell, Chicago Costume’s resident Unofficial Floor Manager (and must-follow Chicago comedian) saw the sign, he took to his Twitter, where it immediately went viral, garnering nearly 17,000 likes. 

“It was such a visual representation of the disparity between Ma and Pa places and a big corporate enterprise,” Rowell said. “It was hilarious at first because, as a comedian, it was like, ‘Wow, what a hilarious visual gag, I gotta take a photo of that.’ But then I felt sort of sorry for Chicago Costume — it’s such a humble, family-owned place that was obviously targeted by this pointed billboard. It’s literally right outside of our customer’s eyeline the second they leave the door.” 

For anyone looking to really make a splash this Halloween, Chicago Costume is a one-stop shop, with two locations — one in Portage Park (4727 W Montrose) and another in Lincoln Park (1120 W Fullerton) — that are both jam-packed with every costume, wig, and accessory imaginable. And if you’re the kind of next-level procrastinator who still doesn’t know what they’re going to be (Halloween is two days away), Andy and his team have you covered. 

“Mostly people know what they want to be when they come into the store,” Rowell says. “But I love it when they don’t know, because then you as the sales associate are put in this position of literally designing that person’s Halloween.” 

Rowell noted that the one thing that tends to fall to the wayside in Halloween costumes is the make-up — and that it can make or break a costume.

“For example, if you can get a Beetlejuice costume, but you don’t make your face look like what it needs to be, you just look like a pale face in a Beetlejuice wig,” Rowell says. “But if you can spend a little time over at the make-up department, you can really pull together a sickass look.”

He also suggested that to really make a splash at a work party, “just be sexy, own it,” he advised. “You don’t get a chance to be sexy around your co-workers during the day.”

For a party with friends, Rowell says, “do a group costume or a couples thing — we have an avocado and a pit, or Tetris shapes in the store.” 

For those really looking to be the talk of the party (or at least the talk of your office’s Halloween Zoom Happy Hour), Chicago Costume also offers high-end rentals, where customers can get movie-level costumes, ranging from Elvis Presley to Vikings, and everything in between. 

“Rentals are perfect for people who want a specific costume, and even for theater and movies,” Rowell said. “Chance the Rapper did a music video last year, and we did a deal with him. Jeff Tweedy did a music video with the rentals department. 

And if you still can’t find what you’re looking for at Chicago Costume, the company’s Mascot Department can help. With a full, in-staff seamstress team of 12 people, the Mascot Department can take any mascot from idea to reality. 

“Typically they do mascots for clients like Jewel-Osco, the Bulls, and the White Sox, but they’ll do other stuff as well,” Rowell says, showing a picture of a Chicago Bean costume the Mascot Department created for his recent sketch show. “If you can think of it, they can make it.” 

Chicago Costume is open until 10 p.m. every night until Halloween.

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