Safari Pearl offers costumes, makeup, dog petting

Owner says costumes turn fantasy into reality

Safari+Pearl+owner+Katherine+Sprague+laughs+at+a+story+she+remembers+when+she+first+opened+up+her+store+which+sold+comic+books+on+Oct.+22+at+Safari+Pearl.+

HSING-HAN CHEN

Safari Pearl owner Katherine Sprague laughs at a story she remembers when she first opened up her store which sold comic books on Oct. 22 at Safari Pearl.

JAKOB THORINGTON, Evergreen reporter

From restaurant management to selling comic books and board games then to selling pantyhose, Katherine Sprague has done it all.

Costumes were not always the original intention for Safari Pearl until store owners Sprague and Tabitha Simmons coordinated with an adult store to sell them, Sprague said. The store initially sold only comic books and board games before adding costumes.

Sprague said she was baffled after going to an adult trade show and speaking to costume companies about getting into the costume industry.

“Sexy costumes were just taking off, and we were selling 200-300 pairs of fishnet pantyhose at Halloween,” she said.

That experience at the trade show led her and Simmons, her wife, to place orders for Halloween costumes.

“It’s just been a strange and organic growth,” Sprague said. “Here we are 31 years later.”

The store fills a need in the Palouse for costumes sold throughout the year as it is the only shop in a 200-mile radius that sells Ben Nye theatrical makeup, Sprague said. Ben Nye is a company that sells makeup for use in the film and theater industries.

Sprague said she has had customers from Spokane theaters coming in to buy makeup. Drag queens, drag kings and cosplayers shop at the store all year round. The two owners’ company, Tabikat Productions, runs a monthly drag show throughout the Pacific Northwest.

“The costumes are actually growing in importance,” she said.

About four years ago, decade-old costume shops in Spokane and Boise closed because temporary stores like Spirit Halloween have changed the market, Sprague said. She said local-owned stores like hers are a rarity that need community support.

“If you need that tutu in July, that store is gone,” she said.

Local stores add jobs and diversity and often donate to local organizations, Sprague said. Simmons and Sprague are involved in local nonprofits like Inland Oasis and the Humane Society of the Palouse.

Aside from Simmons, Sprague and employees of the store, regular faces in the store are the owners’ dog Elise and two cats Athena and Ares. Elise spends the day wandering the store with a ball, looking for customers to play fetch with.

“Elise is our best employee,” Sprague said. “Elise has a lot of fans.”

Simmons made a business card for Sprague with the title of Duck Wrangler. Sprague said she picked up that position after chasing down one of the couple’s ducks on icy conditions earlier this year. She slipped and broke her ankle but caught the duck and flew down to New Orleans three days later to order costumes from a distributor, she said.

“I didn’t even clue in when the radiologist said, ‘No, really, you should ride in the wheelchair back to the exam room,’” she said.

Simmons said owning a business with her wife is and is not a dream come true.

“It makes a lot of things easier to negotiate because we know each other so well,” Simmons said. “Some things require even more negotiation.”

Simmons said her favorite part of selling costumes is seeing the look in a customer’s eye when she can help someone turn a fantasy into a reality.

“It is gratifying. We can help develop a community for people to feel welcomed and respected in,” Simmons said.

Store associate Michelle Winn said Simmons and Sprague created an environment where people, including herself, can feel like a family.

“We sell fun,” Winn said.

Sprague said the store hosts a Thanksgiving dinner every year for customers to come in for as long as they want to socialize, eat as much as they can and play board games.

One customer, Alyson Lowrey, WSU senior psychology major, said she felt welcomed and invited her first time in the store, and it was nonjudgmental.

“[The store] is f*cking tight,” Lowrey said.