Curtains close

Bill Shelley

Photo by Cathy Wagner

Dracula’s Closet is celebrating its final season after 23 years. The owners, Bill and Mary Shelley (no relation to the famous author), moved to Chico in 1995 from the Bay Area, where they owned a party supply store. Bill says he really needed something else to do, so he decided to open a Halloween store because it was only seasonal and it would keep him busy. He was 58 at the time and expected that he would work it for a couple of years. He never expected it to take hold like it did. They started with a 1,200-square-foot store and it grew from there, reaching over 40,000 square feet when it was in the old Mervyn’s space at the North Valley Plaza. Bill has watched costume trends shift from scary to sexy, and he still can’t explain why women like to dress up for Halloween more than men. Visit Dracula’s Closet at 2540 Esplanade Monday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5 p.m. Hot tip: Everything in the store is at least 50 percent off.

How do you choose what to sell?

I try to pick costumes that I think the people would want, especially the plus sizes. When we go to the [trade] shows, my wife and I, we’ll call the biggest model out and ask what size she is—if she says 16 or 18, we’ll ask her to bring all the costumes that she puts on to us. If she looks good in it and it doesn’t make her look like she’s a pear, we buy it, because too many times they make costumes that make a heavy lady look heavier and I don’t like that idea.

Have you worked with the same employees over the years?

Joyce here has been with me since 2012. It all started with her family with one kid that came in. We were so packed in that 1,200-square-foot store, and this kid came [in] … and I said, “You working?” He said, “No.” I asked, “You want a job?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “Get behind the counter.” That’s how he got hired and he stayed with me for 10 years. And after working with him, I’ve had his mother work for me, his father worked for me, his sister worked, his brother worked, his aunt, his grandmother worked ….

Why are you closing the store?

Mary had wanted me to retire like “normal” people. She said, “How long are you gonna do it?” And I told her maybe [until I’m] 75. Then when I turned 75, she says, “This is the year?” “No ….” So, I’ve drug it out another six years beyond that, but I’ve gotta go now. My legs are not making it, my back is not making it. Old age has taken hold. When you stop to think you’re only nine years from 90, it’s time.

Do you have a farewell message for Chico?

It’s been a great 23 years. I wish I had another 23 in me, but I don’t. I want to thank everybody for patronizing us over these years and being a friend.