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Beloved Felixstowe fancy dress shop to pack up after 25 years trading

PUBLISHED: 16:31 26 June 2018 | UPDATED: 16:47 26 June 2018

Reporter Amy Gibbons visited the shop to try some of the costumes on offer Picture: RUTH LEACH

Reporter Amy Gibbons visited the shop to try some of the costumes on offer Picture: RUTH LEACH

Costume store Chuckles Fancy Dress Hire, one of Felixstowe’s most beloved outlets, is closing after more than 25 years in business. We sent our reporter Amy Gibbons to try on some of its wackiest outfits.

Left to right: owner Sarah Fitch and dressmaker Rebecca Thomas Picture: RUTH LEACHLeft to right: owner Sarah Fitch and dressmaker Rebecca Thomas Picture: RUTH LEACH

Fancy dress shops used to be a staple of the busy high street – but thanks to a rise in online shopping many traditional retailers are being squeezed out.

Now costume store Chuckles Fancy Dress Hire, one of Felixstowe’s most beloved outlets, is closing after more than 25 years in business.

Owner Sarah Fitch, 44, announced on the shop’s Facebook page that it will be wrapping up its colourful collection for the final time in August.

“It is time to accept that the High Street is no longer what it used to be,” she said, adding that she wanted to thank her loyal customers for their support.

Dressmaker Rebecca Thomas and owner Ruth Leach posing with one of the shop's mannequins Picture: RUTH LEACHDressmaker Rebecca Thomas and owner Ruth Leach posing with one of the shop's mannequins Picture: RUTH LEACH

Chuckles’ story began in a spare bedroom more than two decades ago, when former owner Eileen Hicks made her first dress out of a curtain.

Ms Hicks went on to manage the shop in Gainsborough Road for roughly five years, before it moved to High Road West where it has remained every since.

Chuckles was later taken over by Ms Hicks’ daughter, Janice Keeble, before it was sold to its current owner four years ago.

The shop has traditionally traded in costumes for hire, however changing times have led to a lack of footfall in physical stores – and sales have taken a hit.

Reporter Amy Gibbons visited the shop to try some of the costumes on offer Picture: RUTH LEACHReporter Amy Gibbons visited the shop to try some of the costumes on offer Picture: RUTH LEACH

Ms Fitch said: “I think the rise of internet shopping has just been phenomenal the last two years, and we have seen a knock-on effect of that.

“Although our prices are cheaper than buying we just can’t compete – people want to shop in the middle of the night, and they want it delivered the next day.”

Ms Fitch said her time running the shop has been unforgettable.

“We’ve had a lot of parties in the shop, which has always been really good fun,” she said. “We remember people, you know – I can see people in the street and I think: ‘Oh yeah, I remember you as the Mad Hatter last time.’”

Dressmaker Rebecca Thomas (left) and owner Sarah Fitch (right) kit out Gina Corani in a pirate outfit Picture: RUTH LEACHDressmaker Rebecca Thomas (left) and owner Sarah Fitch (right) kit out Gina Corani in a pirate outfit Picture: RUTH LEACH

Dressmaker Rebecca Thomas added: “Getting a reluctant man in and getting him to dress up and feel good – it’s brilliant.”

The shop markets itself as a “massive dressing-up box”, with a whole range of costumes to hire – from historical-themed outfits, to fancy dress inspired by super heroes and super villians, animals and films. There is even a range of mascot costumes to try.

Chuckles is now selling off the majority of its stock as it prepares to close its doors for the final time.

The news has prompted an outpouring of support from customers, with many expressing how much they will miss the shop.

Carolyn Baxter considering a period dress Picture: RUTH LEACHCarolyn Baxter considering a period dress Picture: RUTH LEACH

Driving instructor Malcolm Watkins commented on Facebook: “Such a shame! When I do my first ‘dual carriageway’ lesson with my learner drivers, I always say just before we pass your shop, ‘let’s see who’s in the window today’. Will be in to see if I can purchase anything from you for our event next Saturday.”

Kim Lambert added: “I will have to bring my little girl in before you close, we go past everyday and she always wants to come in but I don’t bring her as she doesn’t need a costume and just wants to play, we will both miss your window displays, they are her highlight of the nursery run.”

Fashion has certainly changed over the years, with bestsellers ranging from traditional themed party pieces to nostalgic buys.

Ms Fitch said: “It used to be sort of old school fancy dress – where you’d dress up as vicars and tarts, schoolgirls, that kind of thing. Now it does tend to be a lot of decades – 1980s is always really popular, and even the 90s now.”

Sarah Fitch serving a constant stream of customers keen to get a bargain costume Picture: RUTH LEACHSarah Fitch serving a constant stream of customers keen to get a bargain costume Picture: RUTH LEACH

While it’s goodbye to the high street for now, Ms Fitch said that she will be keeping Chuckles’ spirit alive by continuing to hire themed costumes from home, via her website revivalwardrobe.com.

“I’m going to be hiring the 1940s and the military stuff, because that’s what got me into the shop in the first place,” she said. “So I’m going to continue doing that all from home.”

She added: “I just want to thank everybody that has come over the years, you know people that have come back year after year and hired the same costume over and over again.

“All the messages and cards and presents that people have brought in have been really moving. We’ve met some lovely people and lots of well wishers – so thank you.”

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