The Denton Chamber of Commerce named Rose Costumes and its owner, Judy Smith, Small Business of the Year on Friday, in part because the business grew 25 percent despite market challenges.
The award goes to local businesses both for their success and for being innovative and creative in delivering their products or services. The chamber has granted the annual award since 1986.
About 75 percent of the Denton chamber’s current members employ fewer than five full-time employees, officials said.
The announcement surprised Smith, who had served for several years on the committee that selected previous winners.
“I knew what you had to do to win and I didn’t think I ever could,” Smith said.
She hasn’t added to her small staff in a long time, but she did see her business grow 25 percent in the past year.
Given the economy, and the fact that “everyone has a finger in the pie” at Halloween now, Smith said she knows that was an accomplishment.
The costume shop began as a Fry Street vintage store. Smith and her business partner, Patsy Moran, opened Secondhand Rose in 1976 and sold not only vintage clothes and accessories but also furniture. In the back room, Smith mended blue jeans.
Moran moved to Austin in the early 1980s to open her own shop. Smith stopped selling furniture in the shop on Fry Street in order to respond to customer demand to rent vintage clothes and costumes. Smith kept on sewing, including making costumes for the shop’s inventory.
In 1987, she moved the shop to Elm Street and then to its current location at Stonehill Center, near North Loop 288 and Interstate 35, in 2004.
Over the years, costume sales and rentals at Halloween became about one-third of her annual business. But that peaked in 2007, Smith said.
Since then, the market has been diluted by pop-up stores and the many other retailers — from party suppliers to grocery chains — that carry costumes at Halloween.
Smith found it difficult to respond to the popular whims, too. She’s still trying to figure out what to do with all the Avatar costumes she bought the year the film came out.
“That was the last time I did that,” Smith said, adding “the handwriting was on the wall.”
She decided to focus on supplying school theater programs. The students often need classic costumes and may rent 30 or 40 of them for an extended period of time, Smith said.
She didn’t advertise for Halloween this year. Instead, she has been marketing to schools that participate in the one-act play competition with the University Interscholastic League.
The annual competition involves more than 14,000 students.
Chamber officials noted that, in a distressed economy, Smith and Rose Costumes added $73,000 in revenue, the best year ever for the business.
Many in Denton know Smith as a walking billboard for her business, dressing the part and decorating her cars.
Her adopt-a-spot on Sherman Drive is a beloved Denton landmark, chamber officials said.
Smith adopted the area 19 years ago, she said, doing things that made her smile, such as hanging shoes and pictures.
“Right now, the pictures are hanging upside down,” she said, adding, “I wonder if anyone has noticed.”
People did notice when her display was down for a few months as a new organic foods store renovated the property. Representatives from the retailer asked her to take down the collections and other items so they could replace the fencing, which was badly deteriorated.
Smith didn’t think anything of it — they had told her she would be welcome to put it all back when they were done — until they called again.
How quickly could she put it all back? They were willing to hire a carpenter to help her.
“People had been calling, complaining,” Smith said.
Some were upset that the Denver-based retailer didn’t seem to realize Smith and the shop were a Denton icon. Others were worried that Smith had lost a key advertising opportunity at Halloween and the retailer didn’t care.
When Smith set everything back up, she added a sign to thank them for the new fence, so that the community would know everything was alright with her.
For some residents, that spot is a landmark for giving directions to out-of-towners.
“I had someone tell me I could never take it down because it was how they give directions to their house — ‘turn after you see the shoes,’” Smith said.
The shoes meant a lot to one local family, who recently lost their 11-year-old niece to meningitis. They asked Smith if they could put a pair of her sneakers on the wall.
The spot had always made their niece smile.
“It was meaningful to them,” Smith said. “It’s meaningful to me, too.”
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is email@example.com.