Columbia Wig and Beauty Supply on North Front Street shuttered its magical doors in late December after four decades of operation, leaving local wannabe pirates and princesses in the dust.
Enter stage right, young Felicita Chipak of Port Ewen, the former operations manager of Kingston-based Fruition Chocolate, who says she bought Columbia for business, and for pleasure. Chipak, a “cosplay” enthusiast (Google it, trust me), couldn’t resist when the business went up for sale, even involving herself in the final weeks of Columbia’s final countdown with former owner Laura Spaey. Chipak now has a temporary storefront on North Front Street for just the wigs, and is looking for space to ultimately reunite her costumes and wigs under one roof.
Chipak has been playing with face paints and dress up since she was 6. “Mom always told me, ‘If you want to be an artist, you’ll never make any money,’” she recalled. “So having my own business was my way of doing both.” A self-described “gamer girl,” Chipak was a microbiology student who later studied film at CUNY, and eventually went into veterinary sciences, working as a veterinary assistant at Hurley Animal Hospital. After a few years of often dealing with sick animals, said Chipak, she chose to work at Catskill Animal Sanctuary and Woodstock Farm Sanctuary where, she said, she could be part of an animal’s healing journey into happily ever after.
The newly reformed Columbia Beauty Supply is currently focusing on wig sales, while she nails down the next segment of the business for which Columbia’s reputation is known far and wide — the costumes. Jenae Yelina, a stylist from New York City, has been coming to her Kingston storefront on Tuesdays to cut, style and custom-color her upstate clientele and the same for her wig/sheitel customers. Yelina, originally of New Paltz, said she has styled everyone from royalty to models to TV personalities. Yelina said she learned techniques traveling all over the world, such as hair-wrapping in Brazil, fashioning wigs for Broadway and more on set for a Bollywood production in India and also hair shows and seminars in Dubai.
Columbia is mostly selling synthetic wigs, with clip-ins, weaves and pieces. Chipak said she will be ordering real-hair wigs into stock as time goes on. She continues to sell all the fundamentals that keep any stage actor or human on the streets popping with fake eyelashes, nail polishes, theater and face makeup, mustaches and hair products. Chipak admitted when buying Columbia that her primary focus was the costumes, until Columbia-philes started talking to her about the wigs, at which point she realized their essential place in the business. “I was only going to do costumes, but then I met the customers and talked to them, and realized I had to bring the business all back together,” she said, adding that a furniture company from Hyde Park just closed on the costume shop’s former three-story space on Crown and North Front street.
Crowdfunding the future
Chipak has applied for several business grants, as well as initiated an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise needed startup capital to be underway by October for Halloween, hoping to capture donations from the Columbia costume community. “It’s like a movement,” she said. Chipak believes that with the increasing presence of film crews in Kingston, UPAC, RUPCO’s Metro project slated to host a TV film and production arts, she is planning to offer classes for students interested in learning theater makeup and costume classes. Chipak said she is witnessing a “theater culture” grow in Kingston, and is crafting her business plan around that. “[Columbia Beauty] has always been a magnet for talent,” said Chipak. She is hoping to offer classes in the new space.
One such example of marketing to theater is a line of wigs designed and styled by Lady Daniella, a Fashion Institute of Technology consultant from Accord, who fashions whimsical wig styles for photo shoots, theater productions and movies.
Chipak feels particularly called to share the wealth she has learned in her 20-something years, attributing her own interest in theater costume and makeup to similar community programs during her childhood in Astoria, which took kids from low-income families to Broadway shows. “I want to influence kids like that,” said Chipak.
They do have more fun, don’t they?
Most popular wig selling off the shelves? “Blonde,” confirmed Chipak, adding that red is very hot as well, but blonde is what many are after. Chipak sees about 10-15 customers a day. Costume wigs start at $40, and real hair wigs start at about $1,000. She said that the wigs on shelves in the shop are a representation of the various styles available, and can be special ordered in a variety of hair colors using color wheels and wig hair samples to match. As this reporter tried on various wig styles and shades, it quickly became obvious that style, cut and color all very much matter.
As for the costumes, Chipak says she will be rolling out a more sophisticated and complete online sales and build a greater rental component to the business. Chipak had the good fortune to hang onto Columbia’s web page, phone number and social media accounts with several thousand existing followers, so no need to start from scratch. “People will be able to rent a costume for $35, and look like they spent $300 on it,” she said. She would like to have “pop-up” costume sales at Smorgasburg, flea markets, and “pop-up” markets to get rid of “dated” costumes that she can not sell or rent.
Columbia’s hours are Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Friday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturdays noon-8 p.m. and Sundays noon-3 p.m. For more information, call Columbia at (845) 339-4996 or visit their website at columbiacostumes.com.