Austinites spend one last Halloween with Lucy in Disguise on South Congress
A giant Pikachu. The head of every Ninja Turtle. All four Sgt. Pepper uniforms. A box of fancy mustaches. A case of shimmering eyelashes.
For the last four decades, there’s been a place in Austin where people could find all of these oddities: Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds.
“I would describe it as kind of like the coolest aunt you have — it is her closet,” says Jerry Durham, a manager at the iconic shop on South Congress. “And she is also really into Halloween.”
The year-round costume shop offers everything from superhero and Disney costumes to vintage clothing and one-of-a-kind, custom-made pieces. Shoppers sift through the colorful labyrinth of taffeta, sequins and faux fur for all sorts of reasons: birthdays, murder mystery parties, on-stage performances and, of course, Halloween.
But this October, the mood at Lucy in Disguise is bittersweet. A large banner above the entrance lets people know the store will close at the end of the year. As groups of people walk past, they point and say something to the effect of, “Did you hear Lucy’s is closing? Such a shame.” Inside, customers peruse the racks, hoping to buy one last Halloween costume before the store closes for good.
Now, the story behind this closure doesn’t fit under Austin’s increasingly common “the rent is too high” narrative. The store’s owner and founder, Jenna Radtke, actually owns the building. There were a number of factors that led to the decision to close and sell the space, Durham says. For one, a lot of costume companies the store relies on went under during the pandemic.
“It seems like it's going to be even harder to get these one-of-a-kind items and even harder to avoid the store just starting to look like a Spirit Halloween,” Durham says, referring to the seasonal costume chain. “We never wanted this to just be a store full of the same package costumes that you can buy anywhere. We wanted it to be something above and beyond that, and that has just gotten increasingly harder over the last few years.”
He also points out South Congress is changing. Parking has become more difficult, and the store anticipates it will only get worse as Austin builds out its public transit over the next several years, including a possible light rail line down the popular street.
“It just seems really hard for us to picture being able to sustain the business through all of that,” he says. “You know, if someone's coming in and renting, for example, one of our giant Pikachu mascots, but they can't drive down here because there's no more parking down here, are they going to take that thing on a train? Like, what are they doing at that point? So, it's just a lot of different challenges like that.”
Durham says the store would rather leave while “the going's still good, than wait and struggle on our way out.” For many, though, the closure feels like the loss of an Austin institution.
A few days ahead of Halloween, Tara Morris, a born-and-raised Austinite, took her two young sons there to pick out a costume. The store opened the same year Morris was born, so it’s been there for as long as she can remember.
“It’s been such a landmark in Austin for so long, and it’s really sad to see it go,” she says. “To me, Lucy’s is just as much of an Austin tradition as going to the Zilker Tree.”
It had been a few years since she’d visited the store because of the pandemic, but she wanted to bring her sons there for this last Halloween. Seven-year-old Sonny wanted a knight costume to match his younger brother Scout’s. It didn’t take long to find the perfect one — but that’s not surprising.
“I think Lucy's history has always been: You know that we have everything,” store manager Emily Hicks says. “And we always have such a creative styling staff that we can take pieces that maybe the customer never would have thought of and then create the look that they're going for.”
These days, though, the stock of costumes is starting to thin out. In a social media post in August announcing the impending closure, the store said costumes, which are normally available to rent or buy, would be available for purchase only going forward. The message sent a flock of regulars to the store to pick out a piece of Lucy’s before it was all gone.
“August is normally a pretty sleepy month for us, and this year August was crazy,” Durham says. “I think that we kind of underestimated how quickly people would act to try to get pieces pulled and purchased.”
Owen and Jodi Egerton were part of that flock. The couple has been going to Lucy’s for decades — for fun and for work. Owen is one of the people behind Master Pancake Theater shows at Alamo Drafthouse, and Jodi works with Typewriter Rodeo. They’ve both relied on Lucy’s over the years for costumes for their respective events. And, rather than going for ice cream or taking a trip to the toy store, they’d treat their two kids to trips to Lucy’s as they were growing up.
When the couple heard the news the store was closing, they took a pilgrimage there with their now-teenagers in tow. They figured they’d take home a memento — a mask or maybe a cool pair of sunglasses. But instead, something happened that often does inside Lucy in Disguise: You go in with an idea of what you want but then get inspired and walk away with something entirely different.
“We saw hanging from the ceiling four full-size Fraggle costumes,” Owen remembers with a laugh. “And we knew what purchase we were making that day.”
They wore the colorful Muppet suits out of the store.
Jodi says she’s sad to think of the store no longer being there, but at the same time, the closure feels a bit inevitable as Austin continues to evolve.
“It’s not super surprising, I guess,” she says, “but it does seem like whatever ends up in that space is going to have some pretty wild, like, energetic magic imbued in the walls, because a lot of wonderful stuff happened in that building.”
Having worked at Lucy’s the last 13 years, Durham has seen a lot of that magic up close. A few Halloweens ago, he was working in the store dressed up as Ginger Spice when a woman with a British accent approached him and asked if she could take a photo of him. He said yes. It took a few moments for him to realize the woman was Geri Halliwell, Ginger Spice herself.
“She had just happened to be in the store on Halloween day while I was wearing the dress that she made iconic,” he says.
Durham says the store’s closure hasn’t fully sunk in for him yet. He says he’ll miss the place, which has long been a safe space for him to dress and be perceived as he wants. But he doesn’t want people to see the store’s closure as a sign that Austin has lost its weirdness.
“Ultimately, it is the people here who have kept us in business for this long, and it's the community's creativity and the community's desire to look amazing while they party that has kept us alive,” he says.
Durham says he hopes people keep that creativity going.
“We don't want anybody to think that like, ‘Oh, with Lucy's closing, that's it, I don't want to be here anymore. I can't let my freak flag fly anymore,’” he says. “Find a way to keep your freak flag flying. Take the lessons of color and all that [you’ve] learned from Lucy’s and take it out into the world.”