MONMOUTH — James Martin is experiencing the perils firsthand of running a niche business.
When the national supply chain came to a grinding halt, it subsequently left many box store shelves empty of supplies, especially seasonal stock for Halloween.
Meanwhile, many days Martin sits alone in Monmouth’s Dancing Muse Costume Shop waiting for customers to peruse the full racks of garb to dress the creative mind for the upcoming holiday.
With less travel and gathering restrictions this year than last due to the pandemic, Martin said sales have still been stagnant, even with an advertising blitz.
“Ironically, we’re not getting more customers this October. I had done through the Chamber (of Commerce) advertising at the local cinema for three months. T-Rex sitting out there. I’m not getting much. And this is 17 days before my Christmas. So, I think a lot a people are not planning Halloween parties like they would. Not as much need to do as much of the Halloween thing at this time because of COVID,” Martin explained.
Martin is going on his third Halloween since acquiring Dancing Muse in 2019. He and partner Mary Harper actually saw it as an opportunity to supplement their involvement within the pirate cosplay community.
“We do a lot of pirate festivals the last 15 years. We were looking around for garb to sell at events, when we bumped into someone who said they were selling garb at the costume shop,” he said.
They came to Monmouth and the owner ended up selling them Costume Kreations. Martin said taking over the store proved to be more than his usual bailiwick.
“We had to get rid of a lot of racist costumes. A whole bunch of Civil War stuff, Confederates and Union. And East German uniforms. Mustaches in the German style that looked like Hitler’s. Native American headbands made in China. Stuff that was racist in its own overtones. We’re still trying to get rid of a lot of stuff,” he said.
Martin admits Dancing Muse attracts a more adult clientele.
“I do get some moms looking to buy super hero costumes in a bag for their kid,” he said. “We’re trying to move away from that kind of stuff. It’s kind of counterproductive. I might lose a couple customers. The ones we really want are somewhere else.”
Where he’d like to concentrate to the inventory is toward pirates. The region, at least before the pandemic, was rife with role players dipping into the lifestyle of a seaborn scalawag. Enough so that sales got them through the slow months.
“Before, we had spurts. Pirate festivals during summer make a lot of great money. And then after Halloween, everything drops off, and we have to hold out over winter, and wait for spring to start having more events,” Martin said.
But times have fallen hard for the would-be pirate. Martin said Oct. 9, there was a Mid Columbia Pirate Festival in Kennewick, Wash., that used to completely book a local motel. This year, even with an appearance from actor Isaac Singleton, Jr., who was the pirate zombie boatswain in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies only drew in less than 100 amateur pirates.
“RustyCon in Bellevue, Wash., now in its 38th year, just announced this week they’re closing shop,” Martin added. “It’s annual convention, general science fiction/fantasy, had less than 300 people attend. Logistically putting on a convention post COVID, it’s getting to be quite expensive.”
While his shelves can provide outfits for ballerinas to clowns, don’t be surprised if Martin steers customers toward being a pirate.
“I’m that candle in the window for people who feel for one reason or another the call to be a pirate, they don’t know where to go,” he said.
A pirate’s costume can be as cheap as $30 or up to several hundred. Leather coats and leather hats run up to $200 apiece themselves.
“The more simpler the pirate, the cheaper it is. You can find something at Good Will or in your own closet. The more elaborate you want to get, the more cost,” he added.
Disregarding the slow days where he feels like a spider in a web, awaiting a numbed fly, Martin is keeping Dancing Muse open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. in anticipation of the Halloween rush. Just look for the store on Main Street with Betty out front, the inflatable T-Rex.