I am a candy corn, candy apple, candy collecting kinda gal. October is the perfect month to indulge those interests. Of course, you can’t say candy without saying Halloween and in Mt. Airy, you can’t say Halloween without saying Past & Present.
The vintage boutique has been supplying denizens of Northwest Philadelphia with costumes for more than 30 years, which is why it’s especially sad to report that this year will be its last. Owner Patsy Dougherty, who grew up in the suburbs, recalls when the idea of starting a vintage store first came to her.
“I was cleaning out my grandmother’s house in 1975, and this is like your grandmother’s attic in here, so I guess it was born from that,” she said. “So, it’s really been more than 30 years I’ve been doing this. When I do the math, I just can’t believe that.”
A vintage shop is born
Dougherty and a friend first opened up shop in Chestnut Hill for a couple of years before moving the store to its current location in the 7200 block of Germantown Ave. The boutique’s original incarnation also included antiques, but over the years, that business gave way to vintage clothing and accessories.
Initially, Past & Present was a retail-only establishment, but customer demand saw the evolution of a rental business as well, which now includes an extensive costume collection accumulated during the past 25 years.
For the first time ever, Dougherty will begin selling off that collection due to the store’s closing.
As news of the store’s closing spreads, Dougherty’s customers have been moved to send their regrets.
“Everyone is so sorry to hear to hear you’re leaving, but they only come here once a year,” she says, noting that many customers only shop occasionally for events like school plays or Halloween.
Her regulars – people who “wear vintage as their everyday attire” – along with stylists, designers and film/TV producers once rounded out the business, but in this tough economic climate, it’s just not enough.
Construction on Germantown Avenue tied up traffic and made access to the store difficult. A rival Halloween store opened in Chestnut Hill, a noticeable decrease in film and television business and a lack of parking all contributed, she said.
“It used to be that people would just gather armloads of stuff and buy it all and now they’ll gather armloads of stuff, try it all on and buy one or two things,” Dougherty said. “They’re just really not spending money. Nobody has the money to spend. … Costs keep going up and sales keep going down.”
It’s not the kind of scary you want to think about at Halloween. This time of year the focus should be on goblins, ghouls and more creative costumes which is why Dougherty is working hard to restock shelves. The week before Halloween usually brings in wall-to-wall crowds that leave the store looking like “a parade came through.”
The last Halloween parade
Getting stepped on by the parade of Halloween customers is one thing Dougherty won’t miss, but she will miss the customers themselves.
“We’ve got some great people that come in here,” Dougherty said of the types who shun more traditional bag Halloween costumes and prefer the challenge of pulling together an original costume from unique vintage pieces. “I have to say that most of my people are a little more creative and they’ll be in here looking for the perfect outfit.”
Dougherty plans to keep the store open through the end of the year. She’s not quite sure what she’ll do next, but says that she’ll “be doing something related, I’m sure.”
Whether that’s antiques or opening another vintage store one day has yet to be determined, but after decades of Halloweens past, it is Patsy Dougherty’s time to look beyond the present.