The name “Southern Importers & Exporters” was created all the way back in about 1915. We believe this was because so much of what was needed to supply our customers of the time - primarily theaters and department stores - was made overseas and had to be imported (at that time, mostly from Europe). We also had customers overseas; shipping abroad was rather easily accomplished because bureaucracy, red tape and paperwork had not been invented yet. The company’s name became so well-known, that we’ve never changed it. But, when people hear about it for the first time and ask “What do you import?”, that requires quite an explanation.
Selling to theaters naturally led to selling to costumers of all kinds – which included dancing schools for many, many years. They all made their own costumes. We had all the supplies. Teachers would come in, sit down with a sales clerk, and plan all their costuming needs. We would then get everything together for them. When moms were asked to sew, we would bag every child’s costume items separately.
We were not a retail store for many decades. However, because we had so many decorations for Christmas (stocked for the department stores), people begged to shop here. So, we eventually gave in and opened to the public. Those were the days – when we were about the only place in town to purchase Christmas decorations.
Very unexpectedly, Halloween started ramping up in about 1977, and at that time, few places were prepared. We had lots of accessories in stock for the dance studios: hundreds of animal tails, ears, noses – and we also, naturally, had a huge inventory of leotards and tights. How handy it was that we were in the dancewear business. Customers bought these leotards and tights along with tails and ears and, maybe some makeup, and they had a very inexpensive cat costume, or mouse, devil, rabbit, etc. Furthermore, after Halloween, leotards and tights could be used as everyday clothing, if desired. We also made lots of satin capes – in all sizes. Customers bought them almost as fast as we could make them.
There were lots of folks who purchased fabrics, trims, feathers, glitter, makeup, jewels, hats, sequins, etc. and made their own costumes. Many still do that.
After the first couple of years of Halloweens, we began bringing in a lot more costume accessories, more fabrics, hats, masks, etc. and some costumes (there weren’t very many available at first). Now, we stock thousands of costumes and typically we try to display between 300 and 400 on mannequins or forms, complete with related accessories, so our customers can get a good idea what they can be. So that got us into the costume business – big time.
Our sales to department stores grew to be nationwide, and we had sales reps all over. Until the latter 1980’s, the department stores really decorated. We even created our own lines of seasonal decorations, mannequin head forms, we built a shop where we designed and built a large variety of novel display fixtures. We even brought an exclusive line of Danish mannequins into the country which we sold through our store, sales reps and our New York office. And, our customer base included the big names: Foley’s, Neiman-Marcus, Joske’s, Rich’s, Burdines, Belks, Nordstrom, Marshall-Fields, Macy’s, B. Altman, Abraham & Straus, Bambergers, Bon-Marche, Bonwit Teller, The Fair, Franklin-Simon, Frost Brothers, Gimbels, Godchaux’s, D. H. Holmes, Jordan-Marsh, I. Magnin, Maison-Blanche, May Company, Palais-Royal, Battelstein’s, Sakowitz, Upton’s, John Wanamaker, and JC Penney among others! It seems that after the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986, department store budgets began shrinking, ultimately leading to the demise of most display (or visual merchandise) departments over the next decade. [The new tax law increased corporate taxes resulting in cutbacks in displays.]
With ever-decreasing department store budgets, sales of expensive decorative items (such as rattan rickshaws, wooden wishing wells, palm trees, etc.) began to nosedive. Decorations purchased grew cheaper and cheaper. Purchases were becoming fewer, and everything began to get more competitive. Manufacturers or importers began going directly to the customers, afraid that they would otherwise miss sales. That move cut out our sales reps, so our business again shifted. We had been supplying the stores with seasonal and theme decorations for many decades, and that part of our business grew into what is now our party supplies business. That brings us up to date as a premier source for Costumes & Accessories and Party & Theme Decorations.
In compiling the above information, we have tried to be as accurate as possible. If any errors are found, please let us know so that we can correct them. Thank you.
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