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Business Fri Oct 19 2012

Fantasy Costumes: "The Second Best Place on Earth"

Halloween is by far the best holiday for many reasons. It exists purely for fun. It is not partial to particular religion, culture, race, or what have you. Anybody can celebrate Halloween by dressing up as anything his or her heart desires. It's the one day of the year that it's socially acceptable to walk around looking like a freak show.

If you take Halloween seriously, boy do I have the place for you.

Fantasy Costumes, at 4065 N. Milwaukee Ave., certainly does Halloween justice with its impressive selection. The 18,000-square-foot store occupies an entire city block and boasts "over one million items in stock."

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"Nobody's got what we've got, believe me, nobody," said George Garcia, the owner of Fantasy Costumes.

Julie Gammicchia, a returning customer from the South Side, agreed. "They have the most stuff. You can find what you need for the most part here [...] and then some."

I felt like a kid in a candy store from the minute I walked through the door. I could have spent the entire day in there gawking at all of the cool stuff and chatting with the friendly employees. Every inch of space is utilized in the store. There are thousands of costumes, hats, wigs, masks and accessories decorating every wall. There's even merchandise hanging from the ceiling. Between the mask room, which contains nearly every kind of rubber mask imaginable, and the separate masquerade section, the store has a total of over 500 different styles of masks.

FantasyCostumesMasks.jpg

They have seemingly costume imaginable, in a variety of sizes, styles, colors and price points. There are even costumes for pets.

Garcia's favorite saying about his store is, "If the twins are big and the bumpers are wide, Fantasy Costumes fits them all. From extra-small to 6X we have them all."

Whether you're aiming to be scary, sexy or funny, chances are Fantasy Costumes has exactly what you need, and the expert staff is there to help you sort through the enormous inventory to find it.

"The number one thing we hear, 'I've been to four stores, I've been to five stores, they didn't have it, they didn't have anything. I come here and I find it, the last day I find it.' We hear that over and over and over," Garcia said.

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Fantasy Costumes is open 24 hours a day Oct. 24-31 for all the last-minute Halloween costume shoppers. Employees restock shelves and straighten merchandise late into the night to prepare the store for the next day's influx of customers. They are anticipating about 20,000 people to come in during that last week leading up to Halloween.

"After Halloween the store is fully stocked, like it's never been touched," Garcia said.

Fantasy Costumes is open all year long and caters to nearly every holiday and occasion by constantly updating and rotating merchandise from the jam-packed warehouse. They've got you covered for themed parties, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day and even Purim.

"We have a very steady business here, with cancer patients with wigs and with theaters, and schools, and churches and plays. And then there's parties all year long, '70s, '80s, movie star parties, masquerade parties. You'd be surprised. Even bachelorette parties," said Garcia. Even so, around 45 or 50 percent of Fantasy Costume's annual sales come from Halloween-related purchases.

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Garcia has been in the wig business for more than 47 years, so naturally Fantasy Costumes has a wide selection. The store has over 30,000 human hair and synthetic wigs and hairpieces in stock, and can custom-make and style wigs for any function, be it for everyday wear or just for dress-up. They sell wigs to actors, dancers, drag queens, balding men and chemotherapy patients, Garcia said.

As I wandered through an aisle of wigs, I heard an employee in a neighboring aisle say, "It's Halloween, all the crazies are out. All the crazies are coming here." To help ensure things run smoothly, the store employs a security team to help with loss prevention.

FantasyCostumesMakeup.jpg

The 43-year-old store has a wide variety of makeup and accessories to help put the finishing touches on your costume. There are brooms, parasols, false teeth, self-adhesive facial hair, stripper shoes, eyeglasses and jewelry, to name a few. If you wish to be Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, not only do they have the ruby slippers that you need, they also have Toto in a basket and a badge of courage for your Cowardly Lion.

There are also over 10,000 items available in rental. These tend to be more intricate, high-end costumes, ranging from full-body mascot and parade costumes to scandalous showgirl outfits.

"It's the second best place on Earth next to Disney World," said Cathy Bunger, an employee who has worked at the store for 17 years.

Ali Trumbull / October 19, 2012 2:42 PM

Excellent piece, Brianna! Looks like I'm going to have to hit up this joint for my Halloween costume. Per usual, I don't have my outfit together yet.

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