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Historic costume rental business in Indy closes after 50 years

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — An Indianapolis institution, which has helped clothe countless theater shows and costume parties, is closing down for good.

Costumes by Margie at 38th Street and Illinois Street is shutting down after 50 years.

From the “A” in apple, Al Gore or Arnold Schwarzenegger, to zebras, the business has it all. Maidens and Michael Jackson, Disney characters and Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” Easter bunnies, Santas and even more bunnies.

“Santas and bunnies were a big part of our business,” said owner Cheryl Harmon.

Now, it all must go.

Customers like Kelly Cissell treading on the forbidden back floor behind the sign stating “Employees Only” for the first time.

“I’d never been into the back,” said Cissell. “Oh, you’re going into the inner sanctum, you see all the beautiful costumes and it’s just sad.”

Cissell is buying some costumes for her preschool class at the Flanner House Thursday.

But 50 years ago, she remembers walking by Margie’s every day on her way to school.

“This is a staple in the neighborhood. This is something you know is always there and now it’s gone,” Cissell said.

There might be 6,000 costumes at Margie’s, maybe more.

No one has ever counted.

But Harmon, who has owned the place for 20 years, knows where to find every trouser and accessory.

“That was one of the things everyone always teased me about,” Harmon said. “It really is. I could tell you every piece that is in here.”

But now, all the rented pieces that would return are now going out the door for good.

Harmon said she prefers to think of it as sharing her inventory, not liquidating.

Of all the costumes, she showed News 8 her favorite one — a red Victorian dress with black lace.

Harmon said business has been tough for about five years with online sales and the GenCon explosion making higher quality costumes a lot more easy to buy.

But for all the costume parties, the theater shows, both high school and professional and smashing Halloween costumes, there’s been no place like Margie’s for a half century.

“I think it’s a shame,” said customer Brittany Kugler who purchased a few pieces for the theater department at Cathedral High School where she’s the costume coordinator. She’s also an adjunct professor at Marian University and executive director at NoExit Performance. “I’m surprised to hear the people of Indianapolis were not using it to its full capacity.”

Harmon said closing became necessary when a buyer backed out this spring during the pandemic after all the theater shows were canceled.

“Turning the lights off and locking the door for the last time is an end to a part of my life,” she said.

It’s also an end to a historic part of the 38th and Illinois neighborhood, though the memories will live on in people like Cissell and her preschoolers.

“These (costumes) are going to be memories too, so I might have to take a picture before I take them out so I can say these came from Margie’s,” Cissell said.

Harmon has a background in costume design and is a seamstress. She said after a little break, she will probably want to stay involved in the realm of theater by going back to her roots and coordinating costumes for a show.

The public going out of business sale continues Friday and Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. Harmon said once the public sale is over, she will continue to reach out to her regular customers and try to further discount items until everything is gone.

When Margie’s closes, she said the next closest costume rental shop like hers will be in Bloomington.