Brian Sullivan: Her costume studio can't mask passion
Remember that rockin' little hippy chick who always left you wide-eyed in amazement during the late 1960s? Do you want to look like her, maybe just once? How about mirroring John Travolta as he appeared in "Saturday Night Fever?" Maybe the fashion style of the notorious gangster Al Capone is more to your taste.
It is "the season," said Kathy Kearns, the city native who recently moved her costume shop from First Street to 14 Dalton Ave., and renamed the store Bespoke Costume Studio. "Halloween is a big time of the year for me, but I'll be here the other 11 months, too."
By just a short extension, Kearns is now part of the Tyler Street business community, and she is happy about it.
"We have parking that I really didn't have on First Street," she said. "There's parking on the side of the building and on Dalton Avenue. I'm thrilled with the location."
Kearns said she looked into space on North Street, but the financial numbers didn't mesh well. As it turned out, she's her own landlord, and that's probably for the best. She and her husband, John, purchased the property on that location and put about $100,000 into renovating the studio and two-story apartment that are also within the building.
How does someone end up in the costume business? Kearns grew up as Kathy Rodriguez on outer North Street as the youngest of six siblings, and obviously spent time at the knees of her grandmothers, both of whom were seamstresses capable of detailed work with needle and thread.
Her son for a time performed as a clown/magician and she put together his wardrobe. Her husband, now chief of staff at Berkshire Medical Center, performed for years at the former BMC Follies, and she not only dressed him but costumed most members of that cast.
"I'm also a collector," said Kearns, a 1977 PHS graduate. "I love to collect vintage clothes but I never have really had the room or the resources to have them. Now, I've got the best of both worlds."
Kearns said she doesn't have "everything" in her store, but what she doesn't have she can try to make. People who plan costume parties around the Roaring ‘20s, or ‘60s and ‘70s, would do well to stop by, she said, adding that just the experience alone usually tickles even the most unsuspecting customer.
"The wife will get invited to a costume party and I'll get the husband coming in grumbling and unhappy," she said. "But then they start trying things on like gangster suits and they start to get into it. Usually they leave with a smile on their face.
"I had a fellow come in unhappy once, and a few minutes later I heard him giggling in the dressing room."
Kearns emphasized that her business is more than coming in and trying things off the rack.
"It's why I changed the name to include the word ‘studio,' " she said. "If it doesn't fit, then I'll work with you to make it fit."
And this brings the story full circle, because a young Kathy Rodriguez did learn the art of needle and thread from an older generation. It's a skill she'd like to teach, and hopes one day to do just that. There was a time when schools offered those kind of domestic skills in home economic classes, but that's not really the case any more.
"I'd like to start teaching sewing classes at some point," Kearns said. "Every time I go into one of our local fabric stores I get asked if I've started to teach yet. The people in those stores tell me they get asked once or twice a day if anyone is teaching sewing."
The costuming business isn't that easy. The area high schools and stage companies usually have plenty of outfits to draw from without needing anything new.
It's Kearns' dream, though, to perhaps get the chance one day to outfit an entire stage cast ensemble.
But in the meantime it's "the season," and she expects to be busy the next couple of weeks leading into Halloween. Hopefully, this new entry to the Tyler Street-area businesses will thrive. But that may depend on how many Travolta and Capone wannabes are out there. Maybe even the Great Gatsby himself will exit her doors one day.
If that's the case, then sew be it.
Brian Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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