Uptown Costumes’ off-white, two-story facade fits into the landscape of Court Street neatly, providing few visual indications of the store's unique contents. Behind its set-back door, though, Uptown Costumes contains overflowing shelves, colorful racks and transparent display cases of nearly everything costume-related.
“For me, it's like being a kid in a candy store: it's exciting,” Allistair Palmer, a freshman studying studio art, said. “There's just all this fun stuff. You walk in, you see the posters and the sunglasses, and then when you go further back on the first floor, there's all of these Halloween costumes, even during not-Halloween time.”
Uptown Costumes typically remains open year-round. However, in 2020, the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic changed the shop’s plans for operation. Nearly 15 months after it closed in response to COVID-19, Uptown Costumes opened its doors to the public again in August 2021.
The store has been busy throughout this October, David Wirtshafter, a longtime employee of Uptown Costumes, said. He sees college students coming in to shop most frequently.
Meghan Nelson, a freshman studying anthropology, first encountered Uptown Costumes while walking down Court Street with friends.
“Me and my friends were out and about, and we were just checking out the shops,” Nelson said. “We saw posters, and we kind of ran in. I (went) in there not expecting it to be a costume shop for some reason.”
Although its main product is costumes, the store also attracts customers by selling vintage clothes and posters.
Wirtshafter’s role mainly involves the posters. He operates an online store, Banana Road, which ships posters to people outside of Athens.
Before the whole storefront at 12 S. Court St. was fully occupied by Uptown Costumes, the first floor was a record store, Schoolkids Records. Wirtshafter’s parents owned the record store until 2004, when both floors of the building were converted to be used exclusively for costume sales.
Over a span of approximately five years, Athens and the country saw the rise of Napster, Walmart, Amazon and iTunes, Wirtshafter said.
“That was not a good time for record stores,” Wirtshafter said.
The changes to the current Uptown Costumes shop are reflected in shifting business trends and consumers’ wants. However, the locally owned nature of the business has remained the same throughout the years. Palmer feels that localness, in addition to the store’s eccentric range of products, gives Uptown Costumes a “soul” that other, more corporate Halloween stores don’t possess.
“(They are) soulless, just a little bit,” Palmer said. “(They) don't have the small store ‘go in, feel like you're supporting something’ feel. It feels like I'm keeping money in the community.”
Nelson echoed that sentiment, appreciating the uniqueness of Uptown Costumes.
“I say it's the halfway point between a thrift store and a Spirit Halloween,” Nelson said. “It’s definitely more homey.”