When it comes to dressing up for Halloween, many students experience annual anxieties over finding a last minute costume that isn’t the run-of-the-mill cat ears or devil horns. Ponton Costumes stands in stark contrast to commercial costume stores, with its large array of high quality vintage costumes. Located in the Old Port, the store’s history dates back to 1865, when Joseph Ponton, theatre enthusiast and founder of the shop, worked as a barber on St-Laurent boulevard.
“Next to the barber shop, there was a costume store,” Carmelle Gagné, current owner of the store, said. “But he was not the owner for very long. Joseph Ponton died young, so the store was sold to Monsieur Phillipe who worked there for 20 years [….] Then it was sold to another [man] who worked there for 25 years, and then another one, until I bought it.”
Following Ponton’s death, the store continued to thrive as it passed on from successor to successor. It is now known as the oldest and largest costume shop in Montreal.
“Before [becoming the owner] I worked here for 30 years,” Gagné said. “I bought the store because I loved it, and it’s been an adventure.”
Gagné started working at Ponton Costumes in 1987, and continued to work as a saleswoman until she was presented with the opportunity to buy the shop. She currently owns the store with Dominique Broussard. Three years ago, the pair relocated the store to St. Catherine street East in the Old Port, away from their previous location near the Notre Dame church. Although the new location is smaller than the old space, Gagné believes it is easier for customers to walk through and for employees to maintain.
“The old one was much bigger,” Gagné said. “It was too big. Four floors. We had two floors for costumes, one floor for accessories, and one floor for [dressmaking]. It was hard to clean everything everyday, and there was so much [stuff] it was hard to [navigate].”
Despite its smaller location, the store didn’t lose any of its charm in the move. With giant purple velvet curtains framing its entrance, and a quaint, antique interior, the vibe at Ponton’s instantly puts shoppers in the Halloween spirit. The store offers a wide selection of costume paraphernalia from all decades, including antique masks, wigs, and accessories. Broussard also has her own station in the shop where she makes and mends the costumes on site. The wide variety of garments are organized neatly by era as to make one feel like they are travelling backward through time while walking through the store, from the 1990s to Ancient Rome.
Not only are the costumes handmade and the accessories antique, but the passion the owners have for the store comes through in every aspect of the shop. No other Halloween outlet in Montreal can trace its history back to the late 19th century, and rarely do they offer over 15,000 costumes spanning more than 20 themes. Since 1865, Ponton Costumes has remained one of Montreal’s greatest shops.