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A conversation with costume connoisseur Elizabeth Visciano

Elizabeth Visciano may better be known as Betsy Ross, owner of the long-standing costume shop on Main Street in Clarence. For much of her life Visciano has worked in the retail end of the family-owned business, scaring up costume sales in a highly competitive market.

At age 53, Visciano smiles easily, laughs a lot and lives to entertain others. She has appeared in many productions staged by community theater groups including Niagara Regional Theatre Guild in Tonawanda, Ghostlight Theater in North Tonawanda and the Alden Christian Theatre Society.

Visciano has traveled the children’s party circuit as Blueberry the Clown, and she’s delivered singing telegrams as Marilyn Monroe.

Last year Visciano was married during a Renaissance wedding attended by 100 guests in costume who dined on roast pig. She and her husband, Louis, live in Lockport.

People Talk: What do you do on Halloween?

Elizabeth Visciano: I have to come up with something spectacular. This year we’re going to the Witches Ball at Hotel Lafayette. I’m doing Steampunk, which combines Victorian style with elements of science fiction – people with gears and wheels and mechanical-type things. Those who go all out make mechanical backpacks, space-age guns. My husband is going as Zorro.

PT: Do you always dress up?

EV: We try. Last year the theme of the party we went to was pre-Apocalyptic. We went as Mayans. The year before was music. My husband and I went as a monkey and organ grinder. For favorite movie characters we went as Snidely Whiplash and Nell Fenwick, the damsel in distress.

PT: What drives business other times of the year?

EV: Next month is the World’s Largest Disco, and we’ll get a few people looking for turkey headpieces for the Turkey Trot. We sell Santa Claus suits, and costumes for reindeers, snowmen and gingerbread men. February starts school plays for production in March. I don’t do whole shows for the cast, but we sell props and accessories. We do Easter bunnies. Sometimes we do Roman soldiers for passion plays. I don’t do much with dance wear. Summer is pretty quiet.

PT: Is that when you go on vacation?

EV: If I can. I’m running the business pretty much by myself now.

PT: What’s the business climate like in Clarence?

EV: I think they would love it to be like East Aurora, but the community is not as open to retail commerce. It’s been difficult for a lot of business owners to expand. The town has a lot of rules. It’s been a little tough for a lot of the businesses.

PT: Don’t forget Buffalo is a blue-collar town.

EV: Buffalo itself is, but Clarence is a very wealthy community. There are a lot of foreign-born people who don’t share the same culture. They don’t get Halloween, but their children do.

PT: How do you make a go of it?

EV: I try to keep a little higher-end costumes. We got into plus-size costumes years ago. We discovered they were very much needed. People don’t like to wear full Halloween masks anymore. We got rid of the party decorations, and the crazy animatronic stuff. Accessories are really big – wigs, mustaches, beards. We sell a lot of fangs. We have 14 different kinds of pirate shirts that can be used for different time periods. We have chest hair for the disco.

PT: What has changed in the costume industry?

EV: There is so much licensing now – for everything that moves. Every commercial, every TV show, every cartoon, every Web video. It makes the choices for costumes absolutely outrageous. The catalogs are just huge, by the time a high licensing fee is paid the quality of the costume is compromised.

PT: Don’t costumes news events?

EV: Every year is something. When Siegfried and Roy had that horrible accident with the tiger, people wanted bloody costumes. The latest thing, which is kind of cute in my opinion, is the Ylvis fox video on YouTube. Animal accessories are huge, just like last year everybody wanted a “Gangnam Style” jacket.

PT: What do you do for fun?

EV: My husband and I are into music. He plays all kinds of instruments. We’ve been married for a year. We had a Renaissance wedding where everyone was dressed up. I came in on a horse. Our minister dressed as a monk. We had Bells and Motley come from Sterling Renaissance Festival. They played our music and taught us some dancing. My mother made my dress, and we supplied 100 costumes. My poor mother washed them all while we were on our honeymoon.

PT: You could have been a party planner.

EV: My mother and father opened a party rental business, and they thought I would be a perfect fit. They rented out tents and tablecloths and linens and tables and chairs. Years ago, we were CF Ross Inc. Grand Rental Station. Frankly I found it very boring because mostly it was a lot of labor. It was washing dishes, cleaning linens. There was no glamour to it at all.

PT: When did you realize your name was famous?

EV: When we learned about the American Revolution in school. Some of the teachers would giggle under their breath.

PT: Are you dramatically inclined?

EV: I am a community theater actress. My last show was “Arsenic and Old Lace.” I played Aunt Martha Brewster.

PT: What was your first theatrical role?

EV: Back in ’05 Ghostlight Theatre did “Night of the Living Dead,” and I was one of the zombies. I loved that. I was a farmer’s wife who was out hanging laundry and got bitten by a zombie. Zombies are slow. They lumber. It’s a challenge to think how you would survive if something like that really happened.