GREENWICH, Conn. – October is always a make-it-or-break-it month for Sophia Scarpelli and her Greenwich Avenue store, Sophia’s Costumes. This particular year is particularly critical for her 32-year-old business.
The past two years have been especially trying Octobers for Scarpelli, whose store features costumes, masks, accessories and gifts for all price ranges. In 2011, a freakish October snowstorm dumped more than seven inches of snow in Greenwich and caused multiday power outages.
Things got even worse last year, when Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast and again caused lengthy power outages. For a business whose big day is Halloween, it was the worst of times.
“It’s ridiculous how things have gone,’’ said Scarpelli, whose business is one of the few remaining locally owned stores on the Avenue. “We lost power for six days and had no business for the last week of October. It’s been so hard. I’m praying we have a good year.”
Scarpelli started her business in a recession in 1981. “It was a dream of mine to have a shop in town because I grew up here,’’ she said. “I wanted to sell beautiful and unusual things that the average person could afford, not just wealthy people. I started as an antique and vintage clothing store. But after a while people continuously asked me to rent my things and that’s how my costume business started. Now I have thousands of costumes that we rent as well as sell."
She still sells antique and costume jewelry, candles, handmade soaps, scarves and shawls, decorative trays and home accessories on her two-story building. Her store is one of the most unique in Greenwich, and the state.
“When I started the costume business i traveled around and checked out the stores in the area,’’ she said. “Their costumes were dirty and smelled offensive. The places were horrible. I knew I could do it differently. I knew I could do it better. "
Sophia’s Costumes is also unlike many other stores on Greenwich Avenue in other areas as well. She thanks shoppers individually, and gives small gifts to some of her customers. She also sells products that are far more inexpensive than many other Avenue retailers.
“I try to carry many items which are made in the United States,’’ she said. “People seem to appreciate that now more than ever. I think people like the fact that my items are handpicked by us and not just the regular run of the mill stuff you get in a chain party store. Our quality is different and it is a little more expensive but it looks it. People can go online and buy or rent my costumes as well as see the quality of my rental costumes and accessories,’’ she said.
Like a lot of small businesses, Scarpelli’s store has struggled in recent years. That’s why the next few months are critical.
“I’m grateful and thankful that I’ve survived this long,’’ she said. “I’m a survivor, and I hope I can continue to survive. But it’s tough. I’m a ‘fluff’ place, people don’t necessarily need my stuff. I’m hoping for a decent year. I love what I do, and I love my customers.”