For more than 70 years, Dorothy’s Costume Boutique has been a destination for wigs, shoes, costumes, and accessories, but owner Jon Diamond said he has to to close up shop.
Owner Jon Diamond said he has made the difficult decision to close the Mass. Ave. boutique because COVID-19 has caused the cancellation of many events across the city for the foreseeable future, and he isn’t making enough to pay his rent and other expenses.
The shop has been in the Mass. Ave. location since 1970, but the store was originally started in 1947 by Diamond’s parents, Dorothy and Harold, along with his grandfather, as a hat business.
Diamond said that when the “pope said women didn’t need to wear hats [to church] anymore,” the shop went to more of a boutique and offered items like earrings, pocketbooks, wigs, and gloves.
“I took it over at the end of ’84,” Diamond said. “I never wanted to get into retail. I was more of an outdoor guy; I liked parks and nature.” He said that while he was brought up around the business and helped his parents set up displays as a kid, “I didn’t think it was for me.”
He even went to school for park management, forestry, and landscape architecture, but when his parents retired in 1984, he ended up taking over the store after promising that he would take care of his brother.
In 1988, the store took on Halloween costumes and accessories, and “it just sort of took off,” Diamond said. “It blossomed into the best Halloween shop ever.”
Aside from Halloween, which was a big time of year for business, holidays like Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, and even Thanksgiving were also popular times of the year for the store, he said. Everything from turkey hats to lingerie to ugly sweaters could be found in the 2400 square foot space.
The store also sells Pride merchandise, as well as winter hats, gloves, and scarves, and sunglasses and parasols for the summer. “It’s a smattering of everything,” he said, adding that he has seen a lot of repeat customers over the years who trusted the shop for all of their costume needs.
But this year, so many events have been cancelled due to the virus, including St. Patrick’s day, the Boston Marathon, and the annual Pride parade. “There might not be a Halloween this year,” Diamond added. “No events, no tourists this summer, no theater, no students, no nothing.”
He said that he’s missed three months of revenue and “I can’t see how we can make it up.” Diamond said he has received no government relief or support from his landlord. He was, however, able to get out of the remainder of his lease, but he still has to come up with rent for April and May.
“This wasn’t our fault,” he said. “We fell down because of this pandemic. It was unfortunate. This is sort of a perfect storm to jeopardize our sales immensely.”
After being closed since mid-March, the shop reopened in May 25 with curbside pickup, but Diamond said it was “kind of a waste of time,” and it was then that he realized the business was not going to survive, despite its wide variety and “good customer service.”
On June 8, the store opened for in-store shopping with shields and masks for his employees. After a radio spot, the store was “swamped” with customers looking for a good deal—but it’s not enough to sustain the store long-term.
“People are upset,” he said. “We’ve been there for so long and have such a wide range customer base from Christian Scientists to drag queens.”
While the shop was popular, he said sales had been somewhat declining even before the pandemic hit. With online sites like Amazon and a “lack of people shopping” in brick and mortar stores, “people’s shopping habits have changed dramatically,” he said. “This was really the nail in the coffin to be honest with you,” he said of the pandemic. “If sales were really good, I would probably stay and tough it out.”
Diamond said he would consider a pop-up shop in the future, but right now he is selling everything at a discount. Costumes are 50 percent off, shoes and boots are 40 percent off, and everything else is 30 percent off. The boutique’s last day will be June 30.
“I’m hoping to sell the business and the name, but it just stinks right now,” he said. “Nobody would want a business that has no events for it.” He said that the pandemic has also hit many other businesses in the area, leading to less traffic. “Lots of the businesses and restaurants are cooked in this neighborhood,” he said.
For now, Diamond thanked all of his customers for their “years of support and for making my adult life kind of interesting,” he said. “It was a fun run.”