What’s in Your Basement?

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – When you walk up to the front door of Costumes Galore & More, a sign asks you to be careful: The dog might get out. Then another sign directs you to follow the bats to the basement.

At that point, if you’re unsure if this is really the valley’s largest Halloween costume distributor, any hesitancy fades away once you get to the basement. There, hundreds of costumes, walls of hats and jewelry, dangling masks, and a smiling Mary Jo Hennen greet you. Hennen keeps the mood light.

“We laugh a lot down here,” she said. “It’s Halloween. Most people coming here are having a good time.”

Emily Morison, 11, searches for a Halloween costume at Costumes Galore & More in Whitefish.

Hennen runs Costumes Galore out of the basement of her home on Armory Road. For 12 years, people from around the Flathead, along with tourists arriving for Whitefish’s annual Halloween bash, have relied on Hennen’s shop to make them presentable for the year’s biggest dress-up day. Hennen said out of the roughly 450 full costumes she has in store, about 350 will be rented out by Oct. 31. And that’s not counting the myriad other accessories – wigs, jewelry and more – that are sold there.

Signs hanging throughout the store indicate the available categories of costumes: animals, cheerleaders, ninja turtles, French maids, Renaissance and plenty more. Most of the attire is geared toward adults or teenagers, with a limited supply of smaller kids’ clothes. The selection is big enough that Megan Apple, a junior at Whitefish High School who was at the basement store recently purchasing a Viking outfit, recommends that customers show up prepared.

“You’ve got to have an idea of what you want or else you’ll just spend hours and hours in here,” Apple said.

Hennen’s mother ran a costume store in Minnesota. Shortly after Hennen moved to Montana, she decided she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and open her own shop. With her mother helping her look for a good starting inventory, Hennen was able to buy out a store back in Minnesota. She traveled east to Minnesota and loaded the entire inventory into boxes.

Then Hennen found herself on a train back to Whitefish with 33 big boxes of costumes, wigs and other strange travel companions. But the return trip wasn’t too difficult. It was figuring out what to do with it all, let alone start a business, that was the tricky part.

Mitchell Hennen, 20, sits in front of a wall of hats at Costumes Galore & More in Whitefish. Years ago, owner Mary Jo Hennen said she counted about 280 hats.

“It was like, ‘I have 33 boxes of costumes in my basement – now what do I do?’” Hennen said.

So she meticulously arranged them in her basement, stacking, hanging and sorting everything into categories. At the time, much like now, there weren’t many options in the valley for costumes, especially for adults. Box stores provide a large Halloween selection, though it’s predominantly geared toward children.

Hennen also works as an X-ray technician, so Costumes Galore’s hours vary. She tries to keep the shop open as much as possible in the weeks leading up to Halloween. This year, she opened the store up for the Halloween season on Oct. 12, and from Oct. 22 to Oct. 31 it will be open everyday from 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. She also encourages call-in orders throughout the year for any occasion.

Costume rentals range from $15 to $25, and individual accessories cost in the neighborhood of $5. Everything is rental only and deposits are required. Hennen operates the store by herself for the most part, though her husband helps out when he gets home from work and friends chip in when the store gets really busy, which it always does in the final days of October. Halloween day is the busiest, Hennen said.

If people return outfits with rips in them, Hennen only asks that they notify her. Most likely, she’ll be able to fix whatever’s wrong. She’s handy with a sewing machine and has one readily available at all times. She’s generally too busy to make costumes from scratch, though she does on occasion.

Shanel Libby tries on a “hippie” costume at Costumes Galore & More in Whitefish. Libby and her coworkers were renting costumes for Halloween at Stillwater Bar.

While Hennen can’t do anything about the costume’s fate once it leaves her basement, she can give advice to the costume wearer. As Apple and her friend Nick Fisher were walking out of the shop, Hennen informed them that their Vikings’ helmets had been glued and nailed back together several times.

“I know it’s hard, but try not to let anybody grab your horns,” Hennen said.