An Auburn store where customers are king, queen or anyone else they want to be

Mad Hatters has been clothing the Auburn area in Halloween finery for 27 years
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn has a gem tucked away on a side street that shines brightest at Halloween. This is the 27th Halloween that Hoffman Avenue’s Mad Hatters will garb Auburn-area revelers in costumes that can scare the bejabbers out of some people, tickle their funny bones or take them on a wild ride into the realm of fantasy. Days before Halloween, the Mad Hatters’ cramped confines are crowded with costume seekers. Move backward and you might bump into a replica hanging from the wall of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video jacket. Take a turn down an aisle and you might be brushing up against a “Braveheart” costume especially created for a customer from the thousands of components available to Mad Hatters staff. If the phone rings, you might overhear an employee handling a request for ears (several styles) or fielding a question on swords (replica daggers and machetes as well as swords are waiting for sale or rent). Holding sway over the cacophonic chaos that takes place in the days leading up to Halloween at Mad Hatters is 80-year-old owner Nancy Sadler. With literally tens of thousands of combinations of costumes, Sadler can stroll through the aisles and pick out just the right shirt or hat to complete a one-of-a-kind costume. “She has so many ideas,” said Missy Holmes, who is volunteering at the shop during busy times. “It’s controlled chaos in here but she can build on one piece of information from a customer and have them happily decked out to the nines when they leave. It’s phenomenal.” The store itself has a collection of costumes built up since Sadler and business partner Carol Lane opened their original Elm Avenue location in the early 1980s. Sadler can remember that she always had a knack of dressing her four children in costumes for Halloween. But she had been in the bookkeeping business for years when the costume shop idea was first broached. Lane suggested that it would be fun to open a costume shop and Sadler said she agreed only because she didn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings. The two would establish a successful business that not only provides costumes at Halloween but is the go-to place for schools putting on plays, participants in Renaissance Fairs, kids going on field trips to historic sites like Sutter’s Fort, and children who need help with a costume for a report on a famous person. Lane died three years ago and Sadler carries on with creative zeal and a sharp eye for what customers may not even know they want. One man came in Monday to pick up his samurai costume and ended up also leaving with a fresh bottle of acrylic vampire-fang fixative. Sadler prides herself on working six days a week and seven during the Halloween season, staying on her feet much of the day. Dalene Merrill of Auburn remembers the first time she popped into the costume shop and Sadler helped assemble an Albert Einstein costume for her 8-year-old son, including cotton balls glued to his eyebrows. The son is now 29 and in medical school. Merrill was back Monday at the Mad Hatters to assemble a costume for a party. This year, she’s a frontierswoman to her husband’s Daniel Boone. “It’s fun to come here at the last minute,” Merrill said. “It’s crazy. It’s chaos. But somehow, she pulls it off.” ------------------------------------------- Fast facts: Little shop of costumes - Vampires hot. Mad Hatters has had a run on vampire fangs this year thanks to the popularity of the “Twilight” book and movie franchise - Sleeper hit. The “Where’s Waldo?” combination of red cap, thick eyeglasses and striped shirt have been surprisingly popular at the store - Humor on display. The Mad Hatters sign on the wall warns “Unattended children will be given an espresso and a free puppy.” - Nancy Sadler’s favorite costume creations. Include an exterminator and a bug, a beekeeper and a bee and peppy exercise instructor Richard Simmons. - Local roots. Sadler has lived in Auburn since 1978 and was born in Sacramento, where she graduated from Sacramento High School - Name comes from. The Mad Hatter character in the Lewis Carroll book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” - Gus Thomson