Forty years ago, Geri Spear was planning a Presidents’ Day get-together with a group of friends when someone jokingly asked if George Washington had been invited. Always up for a laugh, Spear called her friend’s bluff and rented a George Washington costume for her husband. Little did she know, that practical joke would chart the course of her future.
For 38 years, Spear has been the owner and operator of The Costume Closet, a specialty shop tucked away at 666 Belmont Ave. From Elvis and pirates to Cleopatra and flappers, the Costume Closet has a get-up to suit any and every dress-up occasion.
It’s the perfect business for a mother of eight, grandmother of 26, great-grandmother of two and better-half of one. “There is no part of the business that I don’t enjoy,” said Spear, whose grandchildren often help her in the shop. “You know your work is bringing smiles and joy to others.”
It has also earned the Spear family quite a reputation—not only locally, but nationally and internationally as well. The company is the region’s only supplier of theatrical make-up and has become a destination for stage managers producing everything from school plays to off Broadway shows.
The Costume Closet is also the world’s largest manufacturer of clown shoes, filling orders from as far away as Australia and Japan. In 2000, it was Spear’s Specialty Shoe Co. that outfitted the male cast of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” starring Jim Carrey.
Stepping into the clown shoe business was a natural progression for the Costume Closet, said Spear, whose son is a former Ringling Brothers Clown and a current Shriners Clown. “He’d always tell me what a hard time the clowns were having finding shoes,” she said. “So my husband started making them and eventually he built the shoe company into what it is today.”
And while their business has been a mainstay here in Springfield for nearly four decades, Spear said the costume business has greatly changed over the years. Halloween used to be the heartbeat of the business with revelers lining up around the block to pick out their costumes. But the holiday brings barely a trickle of trick-or-treaters these days.
“Now, people can pick up a costume in a bag from any drug or grocery store,” said Spear. “There aren’t that many people looking for a complete Halloween costume because there aren’t as many big, all-out Halloween parties like there used to be.”
But there will always be Santas, reindeer, elves and gingerbread men. And after all these years, Christmas is still Spear’s favorite time of year.
“You’d never believe the people behind those costumes,” said Spear. “They come from all walks of life and when they come here it’s all about one thing: Bringing joy to the holidays. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of watching Santa walk out of the shop, propped up and ready to go.”
Photo credit: Jim Langone | langonephoto.com