Dress up for one last party at Northwest Costume Shop

The Northwest Costume Shop was the go-to spot for high school, community and professional theaters as well as for parties, movies and television shows. Photo courtesy of NW Costume shop

It’s officially the end of an era.

The Northwest Costume Shop on 6th Avenue has been closed following a fire last year, and now the building is up for sale. But fear not: Owners Tom and Mary Johnson have no plans to disappear anytime soon.

“I’ve never been one to stand still for very long,” Mary Johnson said. “This is just a pause in our lives.”

Future plans aren’t firm, but ideas swirl around the idea of running a Victorian and Old West photo studio since they love costumes and love photography – with a darkroom and film, rather than pixels and filters.

“We love old photography,” Tom Johnson said. “So that melds those together.”

But first there comes a party, a benefit for the American Cancer Society. The invite-only “One Last Costume Party” is set for May 11 for attendees to see the building, albeit void of its one-of-a-kind costumes and handmade clothing that the costume couple had either made or gathered over the decades in business. Those were largely lost in the fire that was started in an electrical outlet last November. What wasn’t charred by fire or damaged by smoke, was soaked by water from hoses firefighters used to save the building.

“We could never regain what we had gathered over the years,” Mary Johnson said, noting that what costumes remain are in the process of continuing their stage, movie and television careers as she helps two former customers open their own costume shop. “I am thrilled for that. I am doing everything I can to facilitate that.” 

Tom Johnson shows where the electrical fire started at the shop shortly after it had closed for the night last fall. Photo by Steve Dunkelberger

Remarkably, the Johnsons’ immaculately detailed collection of Victorian-era furnishings that was on display as their Sherlock Holmes room survived the fire and is now in safe storage, although the fate of the region’s local chapter of Sound of the Baskervilles, the fan group of all things regarding Baker Street’s famous detective, remains unknown since the Victorian parlor is now packed in boxes.

“That’s one of the disappointments we have with everything,” Mary Johnson said. “I spent 20 years assembling those pieces.” 

Each of those pieces, along with the costumes in the shop and the friends who shared memories of parties and plays they performed in while wearing clothing from the Johnsons’ shop, have enough stories to fill novels of their own. But the last chapter of the building itself has yet to be written. 

The two-story brick building at 2315 6th Ave. was built in 1928 and served as a cluster of neighborhood shops and appliance stores in the years become becoming the home of the Northwest Costume Shop. The rising trend of renovating old buildings into modern uses, such as the former Elks Lodge and almost every building at the University of Washington Tacoma, almost certainly has gained interest from restaurant owners and breweries with visions of a two-story, landmark eatery along the city’s busy 6th Ave strip that comes with its own 25-stall parking lot behind the 10,000-square-foot icon.

“There is certainly a lot of interest,” Toner Real Estate Solutions Principal Joseph Toner said. “I’ve gotten a lot of calls from the people you would expect. It’s definitely going to be a space for a community hub.”

Many investors have inquired about the building, but no solid offers have been submitted, which is to be expected since the building doesn’t formally go on the market until May 11, after which the Johnsons will take some time to screen the offers. 

Anyone interested in attending “One Last Costume Party” to celebrate the building and the Johnsons can contact Diane@joetoner.com or call (253) 441-5000. Several hundred people are expected, so plead your case and hope for the best, since invitatons have already gone out to Sixth Avenue businessowners, community leaders, friends, family and city officials. While the party doesn’t technically require attendees wear costumes, they are highly, highly, highly encouraged – like highly. It is a costume shop, after all. Suit up.

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