Mesa costume shop giving up the ghost

(Kimberly Carrillo/Tribune Staff Photographer) Denise Horn, co-owner of Groovy Ghoulies, models some Halloween masks. "We are a draw for Halloween but the rest of the year, we struggle,” Horn said.

As Mesa’s Fiesta District begins redevelopment, it’s beginning to leave behind local retailers that don’t fit into the city’s plans – the mom-and-pop shops that have provided unique products and services for decades and struggled against the tide of changing demographics and the emergence of online shopping.

One of those businesses, Groovy Ghoulies Costumes, will soon be shutting its doors for good after 38 years.

Formerly known as Bubbles of Joy Costumes, the store took on its new moniker in 2012, when owner Howard Faber retired and his daughter Denise Horn took over the shop with her husband Larry. Faber also operated a balloon and helium business under the same name.

Horn’s brother Andrew Faber took over the balloon and helium division and kept the name Bubbles of Joy. That store is still operates in Gilbert with no plans to close.

Surprisingly, Groovy Ghoulies was not done in by the emergence of temporary seasonal Halloween stores like Spirit Halloween. In fact, the owners appreciated the healthy competition when the pop-up stores would set up shop in their area in the past.

“There was one year we had three (temporary stores) around us and we said ‘bring it on,’ because it’s free advertising,” Horn said.

She explained that the temporary stores would purchase advertising that brought consumers to the area; Groovy Ghoulies employees would often find themselves helping buyers disenchanted by the lack of a personal touch at the large chains.

The personal touch was never in short supply at Groovy Ghoulies. The family – Howard, his wife Mary Faber and their children – and employees have been on a first-name basis with many customers for the past several decades.

“The thing that has always separated us from temporary stores is my dad,” Horn said. “He instilled in all of us (the importance of) customer service and, because of that, people come back,” Horn said.

Additionally, Groovy Ghoulies employed an experienced staff – some of whom worked for the store for over 10 years – and offered professional makeup and costume services.

They also offered a catalog of professional and medical-grade prosthetics that could not be found anywhere else in the Valley.

The store’s impact on the surrounding area is obvious in the community’s response to the impending closure and the fact that former customers and employees continue to stop by just to say hello.

A Facebook post that announced the closure on the store’s official account drew over 105 comments, most of which come from customers lamenting the news and/or sharing their memories.

“(My daughter) and I just love you guys and are so sad to see you go,” Mesa resident Michelle Peterson-Meyers wrote. “Thank you all for everything.”

Brooke English, another Mesa resident, wrote to a reporter that “the people working there were so friendly and (had a) happy go lucky attitude.”

 She added that the employees encouraged her to be creative and helped her develop characters using the accessories she purchased.

Although the once-booming retail area has experienced years of regression alongside the decline of its major hub Fiesta Mall, Mesa remains bullish on its plans to revive the area.

Through the strategic use of development incentives, the city plans to transform the area into a booming office and employment center.

Times were not always this hard for the store.

For much of its history, Bubbles of Joy – and later Groovy Ghoulies – was a flourishing business.

After starting as a balloon and helium business operated out of the Fabers’ home in 1979, it eventually expanded throughout the East Valley with divisions, including a gift store and costume shop, in Mesa, Chandler and Tempe.

Eventually, Howard Faber decided to bring all of the divisions back under one roof in Mesa at Alma School Road and Southern Avenue during Fiesta Mall’s heyday.

“That intersection at Alma School and Southern was the busiest intersection in the East Valley at that time,” Mary Faber said.

During that time, Bubbles of Joy was never just a costume shop or balloon store.

The Fabers kept up with the retail trends like Pokemon cards and Beanie Babies. During the height of the Beanie Baby craze, the store would host special release days with customers lining up at the crack of dawn to get their hands on the newest editions of the plush toys.

The store also operated a post office for nearly a decade. After an ominous start – it opened on September 11, 2001 – the outfit became so successful that actual USPS employees would call the store to ask for Larry Horn’s expertise, Howard Faber said.

The good times would not last forever, though, and the store has struggled in the past five years or so, Mary Faber said.

Like many retailers in the area, Groovy Ghoulies’ downturn coincided with the decline of Fiesta Mall as fewer shoppers visited the area. Even streetscape improvements performed by the city to entice consumers to return did not help.

In fact, in some ways, it did the opposite. Heavy road construction two years ago blocked all entrances to Fiesta Mall and further reduced traffic to stores in the area, Denise Horn said.  

“It did hurt a lot of businesses around here, and there are places that did go out (of business) at that point because nobody wanted to drive down this road,” Denise Horn said.

Other retailers opted to move to newer shopping districts like Mesa Riverview, which hurt the Fiesta District’s ability to attract consumers, Howard Faber said.

Horn added, “So between that and the mall, it’s not a draw for people to come here anymore. We are a draw for Halloween but the rest of the year, we struggle.”

The store also took a significant hit from online shopping and the economic downturn.

Some customers come to the store to try on a costume and then order it online to save money, Howard Faber said. Others opted to shop at Party City or Walmart.

Some customers who stuck with the store simply could not afford to purchase high-end costumes and opted for lower-cost items.

“A part of that is the economy; people can’t afford (it),” Mary Faber said. “You have four kids and you need to dress each one so what you do is you buy a lot of accessories instead of costumes, so the sales are not there.”

Groovy Ghoulies’ future is up in the air, though there are no plans to move into another retail location. Denise Horn and her family searched for alternative, more affordable spots for nine months with no luck.

They had no interest in moving outside of Mesa due to the store’s history in the community and did not want to take customers away from other costume shops in the Valley.

Horn may still set up booths at local conventions and could, in an ironic twist of fate, end up selling her wares online.

Groovy Ghoulies will remain open until at least the end of November. The family’s short-term goal is to sell off its existing inventory, with some items on sale up to 75 percent off, and express its sincere thanks to the community.

“(We want to) tell everybody, the customers, that we thank them,” Howard Faber said.

Mary Faber added, “We will miss them. They’re like family.”

– Reach Wayne Schutsky at 480-898-6533 or wschutsky@timespublications.com.

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