Deborah Chausse

Evangeline’s has been a staple in Sacramento for costumes, whimsy and imagination. After 40 years, Evangeline’s and Evangeline’s Costume Mansion have proven that they have staying power. At the helm of this iconic Sacramento brand is Deborah Chausse. She is practical, matter of fact and the creative force behind both brands. She can spot a trend on the rise and is quick to make adjustments at the impulse of the market, which is an invaluable attribute when you’re running a business.

 

How did Evangeline’s get its start?

We moved to Sacramento in 1973. My mother opened the store in 1974. She loved Old Sacramento and this was the only place she was thinking of to open her store.  It was just at the point with redevelopment from the 1960s that all of these spaces were opening, including the Railroad Museum. It was a time of beginnings. It was very exciting.

In the mid 70’s, antiques were a big trend. Evangeline’s started as a big antique store on the street level. My mother retired in 1985 and I took over. And, then in 2000 we opened up this costume mansion in the upper 2 floors. 2014 is our 40th year.

Why did you decide to change business concepts from antiques to novelties?
Evangeline’s has changed and continues to change and evolve with the times. Certain products change. Customers tell me what they want, what they want to buy and see. We just listen to them and we follow.  The antique concept worked for about 10 years and then demand petered out. That’s when we became more on the trend and transitioned into novelties. We became a gag store, and still are. It’s a lot of fun. You can’t take yourself too seriously when you’re in the novelty business. It’s all silly and nothing really classy about it.

How did you go from one ground floor to two retail shops?
We expanded many times. We were originally in a 1,200 square foot space. Then, we expanded into the full street level exposure of the Howard House. Continuing to grow, we took over the building next door, which was a music box shop in the mid 90s. We wanted to buy this building next door which is now the Costume Mansion. We put in many offers and in 2000 they finally accepted. We started the costume business upstairs and we expanded to create all of what you see today.

We bought the building as is after the last restaurant had left. There were dirty dishes with mummified remains of food still in the sink that had been there for 10 years. It had the smell of an old kitchen. It was perfect for a costume store. I wish I could have used the back kitchen for another room to really scare people.

Why did you expand into costumes?
Our involvement in the costume business just grew organically. The two weeks before Halloween, we would sell a lot of colored hair spray and punk rock accessories. There was a huge demand for those types of products. Every year we would expand on what we offered for Halloween. Everything continued to sell out. We got into wigs and hats. People just loved everything we had to offer. We were busting out at the seams. The store was dedicated to costumes for 2 months of the year. So moving to the new store really allowed us to use our imagination and use our creativity.

What is it like to own your own business?
It’s fantastic to own your business. It can be a bit hair raising, and a roller coaster, but isn’t that life? It’s a little bit more of a roller coaster when your whole financial future is tied up in a business, and it’s up to you. Other people are depending on your to make the right decisions, to stay up on technology, or what the trend is going to be. Fortunately, I have a great staff.  If you can weather the roller coaster, it can be a calling for you.

What is different about working for yourself is that it becomes a calling. It’s not a job, it’s a calling. I talked to someone about retiring. I realized that I couldn’t imagine retiring. I want to do this as long as I can. It’s tremendously fun; it’s creative. It allows oneself to focus, which is more rewarding.