Morris Costumes sells web business to Warren Buffett-backed retailer

Plus: Old east Charlotte eyesore primed for renovation; County vaccination rates by ZIP code; April rezoning filings reveal UCity 'Entertainment District'; Marine beats push-up record in Pineville

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Oriental Trading, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, buys big part of longtime Charlotte costume seller

Scott Morris stands in the 300,000 s.f. distribution center of Morris Costumes, which is the largest distributor of costumes in the world. Oriental Trading purchased the wholesale and e-commerce division of Morris Costumes in March, but Morris and his 40 employees will keep their jobs. “This is such a fun business,” he said. (Photo courtesy of Scott Morris)

by Cristina Bolling

Morris Costumes, which was started nearly six decades ago by a husband-wife team in a Charlotte basement and became the largest costume distributor in the world, has sold its wholesale and e-commerce division to party supply retailer Oriental Trading Co.

The Morris family will remain owners of the retail store on Monroe Road and the Halloween Express pop-up stores that dot shopping centers every fall, but the wholesale and e-commerce sides of the company were sold in March, Scott Morris told The Ledger on Sunday. Oriental Trading’s parent company is Berkshire Hathaway, whose CEO is billionaire and investing legend Warren Buffett.

Morris said he signed a multi-year employment agreement with Oriental Trading, and he will keep running the 300,000 s.f. warehouse in the University City area, which contains $50M worth of inventory and 28,000 items. Morris Costumes retains ownership of the warehouse facility and will lease it to Oriental Trading, he said.

Morris declined to share the purchase price.

The facility’s 40-employee workforce, which swells to approximately 300 during the Halloween season, will stay on, Morris said, adding that he doesn’t anticipate staffing changes “in the foreseeable future.”

“It was a nice marriage,” said Morris, 62. “We did not sell because of Covid or because of financial pressures or any downsides whatsoever. … Throughout Covid, our business has done well,” he said, because although costume sales were down last year, business rose in other areas like Halloween décor.

“It was a good, fair deal to everyone involved. It’s a good, fair deal to my employees, and it’s a great deal for the future of the business. We all get toward the retirement days, and you’ve got to start saying, ‘What does the future look like?’”

Homegrown business: Morris said the deal was made with the future in mind.

His parents, Amy Morris and the late Philip Morris, started Morris Costumes in the early 1960s, when Philip was a traveling entertainer and Amy realized there was a gaping hole in the market for costumes in Charlotte.

Gorilla costumes became a specialty, and they were so life-like that filmmaker Roger Patterson hired the Morrises in 1967 to create the Bigfoot costume for his world-famous film.

Scott Morris and his sister, Terri Bate, decided to team up with their parents in the 1990s, as Amy and Philip were trying to plan the future of their business.

Amy Morris is now 84 and still works six days a week at the Monroe Road retail store, which sells costumes, dancewear and holiday decor and rents costumes and tuxedos. Philip Morris died three years ago of Alzheimer’s.

Scott Morris said he and his sister have been scouting potential buyers for five or six years. Omaha, Neb.-based Oriental Trading has been an e-commerce customer of Morris Costumes for a decade, and Morris said he was drawn to the company because it also runs its operations like a family business.

“People run through different processes to find that next ownership, whether they hire a firm or they create a book and go present it to 100 different companies,” Scott Morris said. “I looked at potential companies who I thought would be a good fit for us.”  

Oriental Trading, which was purchased by Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway in 2012, is best known for its catalog and website sales of party supplies, party favors and arts and crafts.

It has branched out by buying other new companies in recent years. In 2013, it bought MindWare Holdings Inc., a manufacturer, wholesaler and direct retailer of “brainy toys for kids of all ages” based in Minneapolis. And in 2014, it bought SmileMakers, a Spartanburg, S.C.,-based company that produces stickers and other giveaways for medical offices.

Morris said he’s still working 90 to 100 hours a week, and he anticipates a busy fall. “Without a question, Halloween this year will be one of the biggest Halloweens in 5 or 10 years,” he said.

Charlotte roots remain: Oriental Trading will rely on the decades of experience he and his employees have in forecasting what the hot costumes will be, Morris said.

He’ll still be shipping out costumes for Walmart, Target, Party City and other mass merchandisers from Russia to Australia, now under the ownership of Oriental Trading.

The company’s deep ties to Charlotte will remain, he said. Besides the flagship Monroe Road store and the seasonal pop-up shops, the company has 30 kiosks around Bank of America Stadium where they do face painting on Panthers game days. And his sister and two nephews will keep working for the company.

Morris said he doesn’t plan to make any huge announcements about the sale, but for a costume guy, he can’t help but envision what would be a pretty good media stunt:

“Wouldn’t it be funny if Warren Buffett came down and met Bigfoot?” he said.

Cristina Bolling is managing editor of the Charlotte Ledger: cristina@cltledger.com

Related Ledger article:

Bonus: Our State magazine made a cool 7-minute video on Morris Costumes last year.


Today’s supporting sponsors are T.R. Lawing Realty

… and Landon A. Dunn, attorney-at-law in Matthews:


An eastside eyesore preps for a makeover

A prominent run-down building in east Charlotte that thousands of people see every day appears headed for a big renovation.

Permits posted on the outside of the seven-story Varnadore building alongside Independence Boulevard say that asbestos removal was to have started last week and that demolition work is estimated to start May 10. CharlotteEast, a nonprofit advocacy board for east Charlotte, wrote on Instagram last week that contractors were spotted at the site.

The building, built in 1962 by homebuilder Charles Ervin, has been abandoned for years and is marred by broken windows and graffiti. A prospectus by the Nichols Co. shows a rendering with the original building and two new adjacent buildings. It reads: “In refurbishing the office tower and resurrecting the site with new shopping, dining and entertainment options, the new development will honor the legacy of Charles Ervin and once again provide a venue for neighbors and visitors to enjoy the eastside of town.”

It appears to show a new office building and parking structure. The document refers to the site as the “Ervin Building Complex” and appears to show a Mona Lisa on the side of the development, but that could just be a placeholder:

The Nichols Co. referred inquiries about plans for the building to Gvest Capital, which did not return our calls. City council member Matt Newton, who represents the eastside, didn’t answer an email. —CB


South Charlotte ‘wedge’ and North Mecklenburg have highest vaccination rates

Mecklenburg County for the first time released estimated Covid vaccination rates by ZIP code — and the numbers look like a lot of other measures in the county, with a big difference between the more affluent parts of town and the less affluent parts of town:

The Myers Park area (28207) had the highest vaccination rate, at 71%. East Charlotte (28212) had the lowest, at 20%. —TM


April’s rezoning petitions 🔥: Apartments, townhouses, plans for ‘University City entertainment district’ by Topgolf

Almost tee time in UCity: The Topgolf under construction in University City is so big, it’s hard to miss from I-85 … and it’s said you can even see it from the top floors of uptown skyscrapers. Developers revealed plans for a mixed-use project beside it in city filings last month. (Photo courtesy of The 5 and 2 Project)

If the calendar is turning to a new month, it’s time to look at all the hot rezoning requests developers filed in the previous month … and we’ve got the details on them, before they hit the city’s main website.

Before you scroll to our next item, just consider that these are an early alert system of what developers are planning around you and around the city. Folks in the real estate industry also enjoy the details of who’s up to what.

In April, developers filed plans for…

  • Apartment complexes on Albemarle Road in east Charlotte and in Seversville.

  • Townhouse developments off Brookshire Boulevard, off Freedom Drive, along Providence Road and in Mallard Creek.

  • An “entertainment district” for University City, complete with apartments, retail, offices, possibly a hotel and “paved areas for parking and food truck vendors” — all right by the new Topgolf under construction off University City Boulevard. A Topgolf spokesperson told The Ledger last week that it will open sometime this summer.

Our monthly list of rezonings is available only to our community of paying subscribers. So if that describes you, dive on in!

Take me to April's rezonings

—TM


In brief:

  • Carolina Place Mall shootout: Pineville police said they obtained arrest warrants for two men they believe shot at each other inside Carolina Place Mall on Saturday. Police evacuated the mall, and many shoppers said they were terrified. “This was a group of people that had a dispute that caused this,” Pineville’s police chief said. “It’s not like an active shooter or random event.” (WSOC)

  • Unloading on 2040 Plan: Speaking to a group of Young Republicans last week, city council member Ed Driggs called the city’s proposed 2040 Comprehensive Plan “basically an attempt at a socialist takeover of the city of Charlotte,” and that opponents had been able to delay it because “smart people can outmaneuver dumb people.” Driggs, a Republican who represents part of south Charlotte, later said he was unaware a reporter, Axios’ Michael Graff, was in the room and that his comments were merely “putting on a show” for the audience. Democrats outnumber Republicans 9-2 on the council. (Axios Charlotte)

  • Another streetcar delay: The Gold Line streetcar is now expected to open by August, city transit officials say, after testing revealed unspecified problems. It was previously projected to open by April or May. (WSOC)

  • New flights from CLT: American Airlines is adding flights to two new cities from Charlotte: Columbus, Ga.; and El Paso, Texas. Tickets go on sale today, and service starts Aug. 17. (The Points Guy)

  • Calling out restaurants: A group of Charlotte chefs have started a private Facebook group in which they shame restaurants that pay less than $15 an hour. (CharlotteFive)

  • Radio waves: The changes are continuing at 107.9 “The Link”: It will now be known as “Mix 107.9,” and starting today, the “Matt & Ramona” show will move to 6 to 10 a.m., replacing “Bob & Sheri.” (Observer)

  • Chicken shortage rocks Bojangles: Many Bojangles restaurants are out of Chicken Supremes, as demand for chicken nationwide has spiked in recent weeks as Covid restrictions are ending. Bojangles said in a statement: “Our supply team has been working around the clock to ensure all restaurants have what they need to fill orders. We appreciate your patience and understanding given the chicken shortage that’s affecting our entire industry.” Other restaurants have been forced to pull chicken wings off menus. (WSOC)

  • CMS bans parents from musical: Parents at Providence High School say they’re disappointed with the decision by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools that prevents them from watching their children’s spring musical, “Spamalot.” CMS announced last week that end-of-year activities including “arts performances, club events, class events, grade-level events and senior events” could be attended only by students and school staff because of “safety protocols.” Parents say no such restrictions are in place for school sports. (WFAE)

  • Push-up champion: A Marine veteran in Pineville broke the world record for the most push-ups in a hour. TShane Johnson logged 3,050 push-ups on Saturday, shattering the previous record of 2,900. He fell short of the record for most push-ups in 12 hours, though, finishing with a mere 16,400 on Saturday night. The record was 19,325. His effort raises money for veterans charities, and he said he hoped to “share a little dose of inspiration for all.” (WCNC)


Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:


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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN Advisory