A true original …
There’s a lot of history inside the walls of Taney’s Costume Shop in Scranton. In addition to housing more than 10,000 rental costumes, many of which are handmade, the shop also features theatrical wigs, a full line of makeup, balloons, and any kind of prop you could ever need. We recently stopped by to chat with the shop’s owner, Jim O’Hora, to learn more about this unique store and the history behind it. O’Hora has owned the store since he was 20 years old. In the 1970s, he studied business at Lackawanna College and costume design at Wilkes University. He also studied cosmetology at ABC studios in New York City, and later went on to earn a cosmetology certificate. We’ll let him tell the story of how he became the shop’s owner, but in the meantime, it’s interesting to note that the O’Hora family has been connected to the building on the corner of N. Washington Ave. and New York St. since 1900, Jim O’Hora’s grandfather purchased it. In 1927/28, it was torn down and the current structure was built. Taney’s has been a staple in the community for decades. Meet the man behind the costumes, Jim O’Hora…
How did you come to be the owner of Taney’s?
Well, the store has been here since 1926, and it moved to this location in 1972. In 1974, I was in college (at Lackawanna College) and working part-time for my father next door (at Joseph F. O’Hora & Sons). Mr. Taney’s store was here and there’s a door that connects the two in the back. It was always open — even when other businesses were here because in those days, nobody locked their doors. So, the door opens up. I’m over there working for my father and Mr. Taney comes through the door, grasping his heart. He was having a massive heart attack. I got him on the ground, we called the ambulance and while we were waiting for the ambulance he told me to watch the store until he got back. Well, then he died — pretty much in my arms. That was one of the last things he said. So, I’m still watching it.
Even though you were studying business in college, at 20 years old, how much did you know about being an entrepreneur?
My father (T. Morgan O’Hora (fondly known as Bud)) was a big help in getting it off the ground. I worked with his lawyers to get it incorporated, but other than that, I did everything else myself. And for the first 10 years I didn’t have anyone here. My mother (Connie O’Hora) was a big help in the beginning, too. She could make anything. I would say to her, “I need a Colonial man’s costume, size 42, and she’d say ‘OK.’ She’d walk out of the store and the next day she’d have it made. On the way home, she’d buy the material and then she’d go home and make it. But that was her love; she loved to sew. I have hundreds of costumes that were made by her.
You’ve always been able to help people select the perfect makeup for their costumes. Where did you study cosmetology?
In 1979 I was selling a line of makeup called Bob Kelly cosmetics. He’s a famous makeup artist who used to do Saturday Night Live in the beginning. I was getting lots of calls for makeup. People were asking me, “How do I use this?” So I called Bob Kelly. I said, “I want to get the makeup going, but I don’t know how to sell it. Is there a pamphlet you can send me or anything you can send to help me?” He said, “Why don’t you join us? He had a school where he took 10 students a year at ABC Studios in New York City. It was run by him and James Cola, who was the makeup director at ABC. At that time General Hospital was there and we got to work on extras. So I took that course and I’ve been doing it ever since. In 1990 I went back to school and got my cosmetology license for hair and makeup at Keystone Beauty School.
With the connections you made while studying in New York, did you ever consider leaving the area?
When I was studying at ABC studios in New York, James Cola asked me to work at ABC, and I thought that was big. But I turned it down.
I didn’t go there for that. It was 1980 and I thought, “No. I have a business to tend to. It was a nice thought, but I didn’t really like New York. I thought it was great that he asked me, but when I stayed there for school I was mugged, and it wasn’t a fun place to be. It just wasn’t home.
Although you’re very busy this time of year, Taney’s isn’t a Halloween store. How do you describe your store to someone who isn’t familiar with it?
We’re a costume shop, and a lot of people don’t know what that means because there are so few of them in the country. You only find them in big cities.
What’s the difference between a costume shop and a seasonal kiosk you might see that’s just here for a couple months?
We cover every period in history because we do theater, television and movies. We do print work. I have a company that does paperback novels and romance novels and they rent costumes for people to take pictures, and then they draw from those photos. So we do all aspects of costuming, not just Halloween, not just Christmas, Easter or St. Patrick’s Day. We have the whole year covered. We do everything we can for high school plays, college plays, and we’re doing a lot of independent films right now – because we do don’t just do costumes. We have the makeup, wigs, beards, mustaches and props, too.
There’s so much to see here, and so much history in this store.
O’Hora shows us the store’s first catalog that Mr. Taney used to buy merchandise in 1926.
Mr. Taney started out doing Vaudeville in minstrels. That’s how he got into it, and it just took off from there. And, as you know, (historically) Scranton was very big in the entertainment industry.
We review a program from The Hollywood Revue, circa 1929, filled with gorgeous pictures of stars such as Jack Benny and Joan Crawford.
In those days, Halloween was not (today’s) Halloween. They didn’t have Halloween parties, they had masquerade balls — which I really prefer — and they really had nothing to do with Halloween. I remember when I found this, I figured someday I’ll be making costumes and I’ll need ideas. And everything is in here.
— julie imel