CQ: 1 For Halloween you can buy cheap costumes at the malls but you are here to tell us that you can also rent costumes.
In the malls you can buying cheap looking costumes but renting is a whole other world of elegance. If you’ve ever thought about opening a really successful retail operation and had hopes of it enduring let’s say a century or so, there is really only one good option for you – open a costume rental company. Costume shops have stock that really doesn’t ever go out of style – a king is a king, a clown is a clown, etc. You just keep dry cleaning them, repairing tears, freshening up trimmings and of course, adding popular characters. How old is the oldest costume store in Montreal – 145 years.
Q2: Well, they might have a great Halloween but then what keeps them open?
In December, organizations need Santa Claus suits. January brings on a rush for Bonhomme Carnival for all the little towns around Quebec. March is busy with the Jewish holiday of Purim in which costumes play a fun part. In April there is of course the rabbits, ducks and chicks. In May, believe it or not brings in female teenagers looking for graduation ball gowns and teenage guys nixing the tux and going for the Louis XV look or even a kilted Scotsman. Summer often gets exciting with period weddings – the Middle Ages are the most popular and sometimes even a “cowboy” concept with men in tuxedoes from the 1850’s and the ladies in hoop skirts.
Q3: They must rent our for theatrical productions too, what else?
In between all these major happenings, there are stage plays, movies, mascot events, masquerade balls, parties, school occasions, parades and even the odd romantic fiance who comes in to rent a Prince Charming outfit in order to offer his lucky bride-to-be a marriage proposal with the proper flair.
Q4: Okay let’s go back to that 1865 store, which one is it and how did it start?
In Montreal, Joseph Ponton Costumes, the granddaddy of them all opened in 1865 and that’s 145 years if your math is good. Mr. Ponton was a barber. When a French theatrical company needed money to buy tickets to go back to France, he was pressed to buy their costumes. He started renting them out.
They have been located in Old Montreal the entire time. Their “newest” premises had originally been a beautiful old home which at the turn of the century served as a bank, then an insurance company and finally Jacoby’s auction house before they took it over 24 years ago.
Q5: What about some others?
Another company, Malabar, has been around for 100 years, since 1910. It was started by Mr. Malabar who owned the original store in Winnipeg. He sent his son to Toronto and his daughter to Montreal to open branch stores.
Johnny Brown was a dancer who in 1934, in the depths of the depression had to find a way (other than ordering from New York City) for his students to buy dance supplies. He started making his own slippers and the business eventually started making and selling anything the dancers or theatres requested – wigs, makeup, masks slippers (ballet, jazz and tap), ballet bars, crowd control ropes, special lights and of course, costumes. Eli Elgazzar, once said “Johnny Brown was so famous in his time for the quality of his dancing shoes that many actors in old Hollywood movies would buy from him. Nowadays when they watch an old movie, they remember that they were wearing Johnny’s shoes”. This company rents and sells costumes – musketeers, doctors, monks, Indians, pharaohs, princesses, witches, superman and of course, clowns.
Joseph Ponton, 480 St. Francois Xavier St., Old Montreal. Phone: 849-3238. Hours: Mon-Wed 9-5, Thurs 9-8, Fri 9-6, Sat 12-5 (closed Sat June 24 to mid Sept; no Mon Jan-Apr)
Malabar, 5121 avenue du Parc. Phone: 279-3223. Hours: Mon-Wed & Fri 10-5:30, Thurs 10-8, Sat 10-4
Johnny Brown Theatrical Accessories, 7300 Hutchinson St. Phone: 495-4002. Hours: Mon-Fri