A customer was checking out at Economy Party Supplies and Costumes when she saw the store’s owner, Diane Lahey, walk up to the counter area. “I’m sorry to see the store go,” she said to Lahey. “It is one of my favorite stores in town.”
Lahey thanked the lady for her support, moral and financial. The woman was buying discounted Halloween decorations, costumes and other miscellaneous party supplies from the store, which is closing on Saturday, Dec. 24 after operating in the City of Falls Church for 28 years.
Diane’s husband, Jim Lahey, was the heart and soul of the store and died in late September. That was one of a few reasons why she is deciding to close the store. “We made this decision to close for a few reasons. First, our lease is up on December 31st,” Lahey says, reciting a letter that she wrote to another local news outlet. “Secondly, the man who was the heart and soul of this store died on September 23rd.
“He created the store and this was his baby and he’s gone….He created it 28 years ago and he was passionate about it until he left us. And, as the remaining owner, I’m ready to retire. The retail landscape has been changing over the past few years, as I’m sure everybody is aware, and I guess it’s just time to go.”
The impending closure of Economy Party Supplies and Costumes is a unique loss for Falls Church. Walking into the store, customers are greeted by wall-to-wall festive decorations for any occasion. Customers who venture into the store’s basement encounter characters of all kinds, albeit in costume form – the costume inventory of the store rivals and, in some case, tops the likes of Party City.
Customers avail themselves of the professional grade costumes that the store provides throughout the year, but Halloween was always the busiest season.
“He went before Halloween, which was really nasty,” Lahey says of her husband’s death. She says she has had some time to process because he was in the hospital for most of the month of September, but hasn’t had much besides that.
“I was really busy, so you don’t have much time to process everything,” she says. “I mean, we were heading into Halloween and he was an integral part of the store during Halloween. I was usually down in the costume shop and he was usually upstairs with the props and all that kind of stuff and he wasn’t here for Halloween. He also loved the store, so he was here like 24/7 as the saying goes, so that was difficult.”
After Halloween came and went, Lahey and her staff went about the business of preparing to close the store, which includes liquidating the store’s inventory. Discounts on items in the store range between 40 – 70 percent off. This includes the store’s inventory of costumes, ranging from Cookie Monster, Kermit and Elmo to bears, eagles and dogs.
Walking through the store, Lahey would stop to showcase Halloween decorations and costumes that her husband Jim bought throughout the years. She relays the enthusiasm he had for stocking the store with interesting, lifelike and interactive decorations and costumes.
When Jim opened the store in 1988, he was in the office supplies business, as was Diane. Prior to opening Economy Party Supplies and Costumes, Jim was an office supplies salesman, and then the owner of Economy Office Products and Furniture, which Diane helped him start in 1969.
At one point, he owned six stores around the region between the two companies. Eventually, he closed the office products company, consolidated the other locations of the party supplies and costumes businesses into the Falls Church location. He spent the duration of his life working at that store seven days a week.
Jim’s enthusiasm for Economy Party Supplies and Costumes resulted in the creation of a community around the store and a familial nature to the store’s staff. Customers came from Arlington, McLean, Tysons Corner, and other places in Fairfax County to shop at the store, probably because the location is convenient in addition to the staff being congenial.
“I’ve had parents come up to me and say ‘This is my kid’s favorite store.’ The sentiments have been great. I really appreciate that,” Lahey says. “Because you don’t even realize that when you’re in the heat of business, but they’ve been coming in and saying they can’t believe we’re closing.”
Diane, who said she didn’t work in the store as much Jim but still spent a substantial amount of time there, says that she’s going to miss the store’s employees. And they echo that sentiment.
“Where do I start?” says Adela Spoon, who, along with her husband Mike, has worked with the Lahey family in some capacity or another for several years. “I was pregnant with my fourth child, who is going to be 13, and that Halloween I worked here, pregnant and fat.” She and Lahey shared a laugh over remembering how she sat behind the register on a stool.
Marcus Pondexter, who grew up in McLean, has been working at Economy Party Supplies and Costumes for 16 years. He started at the store when he was 19 years old.
He says that those who are full-time employees at the store are “really close” and then there are part-time and seasonal employees who come back to work at the store now and again. He says he enrolled in school a few days before speaking with the News-Press and he has another job.
“I mean it’s sad because I’ve been here for so long,” he says. “But it’s another change, I guess, something you’ve got to get used to. It is sad, though. This store is like a landmark. We have people coming in here all the time sad about it. It’s pretty rough.”