In 1956, Lucienne Drapeau of Lewiston bought hundreds of costumes from an unnamed neighbor; with them, she opened a shop on Main Street – Drapeau’s Costumes – that would become a Maine icon.

The business changed hands and locations a few times, the name always remaining the same. The most recent owner, Kris Scribner Cornish, moved Drapeau’s to Lisbon Falls and hoped to turn it around: She increased the inventory to around 4,000 costumes, and gave it a web presence. It was successful for a spell, but sadly, this year Drapeau’s was forced to close for good.

I spoke briefly with Kris a couple of weeks ago as I paid for what I’d bought at their $30-a-bag sale. I could see the frustration on her face, hear an almost quiet anger in her voice as she discussed what led to her deciding to shut the doors. While talking to me she watched customers purchase items for pennies, and I can only imagine her internal struggle. Sadly, the end of an era has come.

Even national retailers are feeling pushed out and undercut by Amazon, and Drapeau’s isn’t a big-box chain selling top-quality products at a rock-bottom price; it’s a small store with one-of-a-kind items – many of them made right there – and a level of service you just don’t see anymore.

I know most people won’t see the value in a costume shop. I’m sure they will assume it’s selling something unnecessary, only needed for Halloween and various moments throughout the year, and that its closing is no big deal. But I don’t agree.

I’m a resident of Lewiston and a singer for OperaMaine: I performed in the chorus this summer for “La Traviata” and as Manuelita in “Carmen.” I sing music that has been written off as antiquated and reserved only for folks who have a history with the genre. Sadly, I know the feeling of not trending. But because I am a performer with a niche so special, I understand the value of just what Drapeau’s sold and rented.

At OperaMaine, costume designer Millie Hiibel – who knows the value of a visibly appealing cast – brought wardrobe to a level I had never experienced. But before I was a 32-year-old mom of four/ hobbyist opera singer, I knew the importance of “looking the part.”

I was a young girl who would go to a store like Drapeau’s or even Drapeau’s itself because I needed a ragtime dress for a performance in Bangor with the New York Ragtime Orchestra during the Arcady Music Festival. Or I needed a Disney princess costume for a local recital, thanks to my mother’s insistence that I “just get on stage.” Whatever the occasion, I came to know stores like Drapeau’s as an almost mecca.

My heart aches for the ladies of Drapeau’s. I am sure every item in their shop houses memories – of the people who needed a certain costume, the events where the costumes were to be worn, the wigs fluffed and boots shined. So I suppose I’m almost making a plea of sorts, that for anyone who owns anything from Drapeau’s to really hold that item dear. Because it isn’t just a thing – it’s years of memories, and it is a relic of a time that no longer exists.


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