Buffalo Breath Costume shop closing after 45 years in business


There is no way to disguise the sad news. Buffalo Breath Costumes, after more than 45 years in business here, is closing forever at year’s end.

Managers say the shop’s departure will leave only one other year-round costume rental store of its type here locally — Gypsy Treasure in La Mesa.

“I feel heartbroken,” said office manager Ryan Varney, who has worked with the family-owner retailer for the past nine years. “This is my home, my family.”

Buffalo Breath isn’t alone in losing the digital battle with online retailers. “It’s an industry-wide trend,” observed Varney.

As customers rented theater-quality costumes for this year’s Halloween parties, they were advised that the normally for-rent-only outfits were available for purchase. A sale began in early November with prices slashed 40 percent on most merchandise and up to 70 percent on deluxe costumes.

For instance, deluxe Julius Caesar and Samurai warrior garb, which include realistic-looking engraved armor and heavy-duty helmets, traditionally rented for $199 for one-time use. Valued at about $2,000 each, the costumes are currently being offered for purchase at $449. A Marie Antoinette gown that rented for $129 is selling at $229.

“People are coming in and buying their Comic-Con costumes early,” Varney said. “They’re also purchasing adult-size Easter bunny and Santa Claus outfits, although Varney still had about 40 Santa suits left in stock last week. Also on the market are masks, wigs, hats, hands, feet, claws and paws, costume jewelry, accessories, theatrical make-up — even store fixtures are for sale.

But the one-time deals hardly make up for the permanent loss of a business that has four full-time employees and as many as 25 sales people during busy party times.

“No one seems to want to support local businesses like us any more,” Varney laments.

Buffalo Breath first opened in the early 1970s in Pacific Beach. It moved briefly to Little Italy in the early ’90s, then became a landmark on Hancock Street for 18 years. Founders John Fitzsimmons and Kathleen Flynn, who started with a vintage clothing store,sold the business to Abraham and Susana Issa more than a decade ago but kept the Hancock Street building for several more years. About two and a half years ago, Buffalo Breath moved to its current and final location at 5630 Kearny Mesa Road, Suite B (“as in Buffalo”).

“I did all the designing,” said Flynn, “and we made our own costumes with seamstresses in the store. We had high-end, one-of-a kind, really good quality costumes, more like theatrical costumes.” The couple’s attention turned elsewhere after they lost their home and possessions in the 2003 Cedar fire near Lake Cuyamaca.

“I’m sorry it’s going to close,” she said.

Even before they sold, it was a tough business to be in year-round because of costume rental dry spells, not to mention increased competition from the internet and proliferation of pop-up costume stores.

Manager Martha Lopez says today’s customers are sympathetic and nostalgic.

San Diegan Gary Moore walked last week carrying his photo album. He wanted to buy the Victorian wedding costumes he and his wife, Gail, had rented when they married 11 years ago on 7/7/07. Their wedding party rode a vintage train operated by Roaring Camp Railroads into the Santa Cruz mountains for a ceremony in the redwoods.

“We were talking about renewing our vows sometime,” Moore said. So, when the couple learned the costume store was going out of business, they raced over to buy their wedding outfits. “We are heartbroken that we are going to lose Buffalo Breath because they have such a huge variety of costumes,” he said.

A date certain has not been set yet for the closing, which will depend on the success of the sale. As space becomes available, costumes are cycled in from the warehouse.

As for the store’s unusual name?

“When we were in our 20s, we were sitting around with friends trying to think of a name that would make people laugh,” Flynn recalled. As the evening wore on, someone mentioned buffalo breath. “We all laughed and agreed right away that Buffalo Breath was the perfect name.”