Fantasy Costumes & Custom Wigs spans an entire city block in Chicago’s Portage Park neighborhood. A mecca of sorts, it’s a one-stop Halloween shop – and it’s even open 24 hours a day during the week before October 31. Unlike many Halloween megastores, though, Fantasy Costumes is open year-round, and as it turns out, the store’s roots actually go much deeper than Halloween.
More than 50 years ago, owner George Garcia had just finished serving in the U.S. Air Force. Unsure what to do next, he started selling wigs out of his car. Garcia turned this mobile wig business – then called Custom Wigs – into five successful stores with more than a dozen wig stylists. That’s when customers began to ask about Halloween costumes. As store manager Cathy Bunger explains it, customers could easily find the perfect wig from Custom Wigs, but they had trouble finding the right costume to complete their looks.
“All you had was the little dime store that would carry boxed costumes, or maybe your local flea market, so that started the idea of opening up and extending a costume section,” Bunger says. Over the years, Garcia purchased more and more retail space adjacent to his store.
“Now, 50 years later, we are a block long with over a million items in stock, from every accessory, every wig and every type of makeup to go with these costumes,” Bunger says.
It can be hard to visualize just how extensive the store is, but here’s some context: According to Bunger, Fantasy Costumes is the largest costume store in the Midwest and has the largest selection of theatrical makeup in Chicago. “There’s a room dedicated to adult women’s costumes, there’s a room dedicated to wigs, there’s a room dedicated to masks,” Bunger explains. “It’s a collection you’re not going to find anywhere else.”
Despite the size, Fantasy Costumes maintains a personal experience for shoppers. “Considering this is a mom-and-pop shop, you get what we like to think is the best customer service,” Bunger says. “You get one-on-one interaction. If you tell us your costume idea, we can walk you through to make sure you get everything you need.”
That’s not just for Halloween, either. By staying open year-round, Fantasy Costumes can serve a wider variety of customers. For instance, Fantasy Costumes serves companies and advertisers looking to prepare Christmas campaigns in the summer, as well as individuals whose medical conditions have caused them to lose their hair. For patients undergoing chemotherapy or similar treatments, Fantasy Costumes offers an affordable hair replacement solution with a sensitive, personal approach.
“We have stylists who can take you into a private room, listen to what your needs are, find things for you, cut and style a piece for you,” Bunger says. “We understand what people are going through because we’ve dealt with other people with similar issues for so many years.”
Like many small businesses, Fantasy Costumes sees steep competition from online retailers. Rather than discourage the small business, though, this competition motivates Fantasy Costumes to keep doing what it does best.
“Online competition is probably our biggest competition, trying to stay relevant in a world where everything is at your fingertips,” Bunger says. “That’s why we work so hard to make sure everyone is happy and has a good experience.”
As Halloween approaches, the Fantasy Costumes team is working around the clock, literally. But even after the big day comes and goes, this locally owned business will continue to serve customers with a unique inventory and a personal touch.
For more information about Fantasy Costumes & Custom Wigs, visit www.fantasycostumes.com.