The internet has made life miserable for costume makers, so a Maine icon is closing

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The internet has made life miserable for costume makers, so a Maine icon is closing

LISBON, Maine — Billed as the oldest and largest costume rental store in Maine, Drapeau’s Costumes is dropping the curtain on a beloved local business that outfitted generations of Mainers on Halloween and other dress-up occasions.

Owner Kris Scribner Cornish announced Tuesday that she is seeking a buyer for her approximately 4,000 costumes prior to Dec. 30, when the Lisbon Falls shop will close.

If a single buyer for the entire collection isn’t found by the end of September, she will begin selling off the costumes individually, Cornish of Topsham said Friday.

The Main Street building has been sold to Kerry Conroy, owner of the adjacent business, Hair’s Too You, who plans to divide the 4,000-square-foot store into several shops, Cornish said.

By Friday, Cornish had turned her attention to the racks of a largely handmade pirate, superhero, Santa Claus and flapper costumes, and wondered what would become of them.

Most popular?

“Well, Johnny Depp made piracy very sexy,” she said. “And the 1920s are fun with lightweight dresses great for dancing. And then there’s Medieval Renaissance.”

Cornish said she’s closing Drapeau’s in part because of competition from internet retailers and in part because she’s simply burned out.

Along with theme parties — flappers are popular — and festivals such as Renaissance fairs and the upcoming Pirate Festival in Eastport (where she’s shipping a half-dozen costumes this week), the shop has always relied on Halloween to compensate for “lean” months, but more recently, instead of renting costumes from local businesses, people are purchasing “crap in a bag” and they’re “trashy,” she said.

But Cornish and seamstress Diane Meservier, who has been in the business for 40 of its 62 years, sewed many of Drapeau’s costumes themselves, taking care with fabric choice and construction. Most can be machine-washed, she said.

Pointing to a red velvet “Queen of Hearts” gown and a brocade pirate’s coat on mannequins, Cornish said, “I paid $11 a yard for this trim. And these are brass buttons from an old police uniform [on the pirate].”

The collection also includes vintage pieces such as an approximately 150-year-old woman’s walking suit and a post-Civil War-era dress.

Fingering a dark vintage cape that is frequently used by Christmas carolers, she said, “You can’t get fabric like this anymore.”

Across the room, a rack of technicolor polyester shirts and plaid, double-knit pants represent the 1970s. Most Cornish bought on a trip to Florida.

“We went Goodwill shopping in God’s waiting room,” she said, smiling.

The sale of the building to Conroy took place just as Cornish, 57, began to “burn out,” she said. Cornish bought the business in 2006 and the building in 2007, at “the height of the market.” In recent years, she said, “We’ve been staggering under the weight of this.”

Cornish said she will try to sell the entire collection to one buyer — she’s already had two inquiries — although she is already selling a few pieces to longtime customers such as the pastor’s wife who rents Roman soldier costumes every Easter.

“The store needs someone with new blood who is technically adept,” she said. “I hope they move it to Freeport or Portland and market the hell out of it. I’m hoping someone will step up to the plate and see it’s worth saving.”

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