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Robert Stevahn

The Costume Shop's man of a thousand faces

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What does an 18-year Hewlett-Packard veteran, husband, father, stepfather and grandfather-to-be do for fun? Dress up in Steampunk boots and a gold thong, of course.

As owner of the Costume Shop in Boise, Robert Stevahn can be anybody he wants--but more often than not, he's simply the boss.

Following 25 years of writing and managing software products, Stevahn took an early retirement in 2007.

He said he was "just burned out--fried."

A few months later, when his wife told him he needed to do something to "get out of the house," he took a part-time job at the Costume Shop for Halloween. A few months later, he was the new owner.

How much of a shadow has the recession cast on your business?

It's been horrible. We bought the business in April 2008, right at the beginning of the recession.

But you hire quite a few people.

In October, we could have as many as 20-25 employees. This is an old-fashioned store. We pride ourselves with customer service.

Each year, we continue to see more big-box Halloween stores pop up.

They are the bane of my existence. They kill me. People think they have better prices. Well, they don't.

Is your store equally divided between retail and rental?

The space is pretty even--probably more even than it should be, because our rental business is only 30 percent.

How much inventory do you have?

Over 5,000 full costumes.

I noticed you had a number of new items with the Jersey Shore label on them.

It's licensed Jersey Shore, but we have knock-offs, too--Guido and Guidette kits.

Does popular culture change much of your inventory?

Things will strike people's imaginations, but in our particular store, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman and Pirates continue to sell year after year.

So, what's new?

Steampunk. It's like the Wild, Wild West. It's Victorian meets mechanical gears and weapons.

Does Boise have quite a bit of costume culture?

Absolutely. There are the ravers, with the whole electronic dance music scene. The Burning Man community throws several parties a year. The goths, the chrononauts and, of course, anime cosplay.

And how about the more conservative crowd?

Absolutely. We've helped Opera Idaho throw parties at the Arid Club. Everybody in town has walked through our doors.

Does it just get insane here the closer it gets to Halloween?

A lot of people wait until the last minute. I probably do half of my monthly business in the last three or four days before Halloween. You can't walk through here, but people have such a good time. And they're so patient, but we have all of our cash registers cranking.

Do a lot of people reserve costumes in advance?

We start getting reservations in August. We'll probably have 300 reserved.

Other than Halloween, what are your big events?

We sell and rent a lot of Santa suits for Christmas, and a lot of bunny suits for Easter. There's Mardi Gras and New Year's Eve. Year-round, we probably sell more wigs than anyone in the valley. We also have a good year-round hosiery and makeup business.

Are costumes getting sexier with every passing year?

It certainly was a trend the last five years. But it tamed down a bit recently. We do a lot of sexy costumes, but there is a bit more coverage lately.

When was the last time you dressed up?

Last weekend. I was a DJ at the Idaho Decompression event [a post-Burning Man party]. I wore a black jacket with white and gold trim, some really big bronze Steampunk boots and a gold thong. That was my radical self-expression for the night.

That makes for a very unique grandpa.

I don't really think of myself as a grandfather. But I saw some little Halloween costumes for infants today. I have to admit, I peeked at them. I guess I'm softening up a bit.

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