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D.C.’s only full-time theater shop struggles to find new home

Rip Claassen has been working at Backstage, Inc. since 1988. He is hoping to expand the store to Alexandria if he can raise $300,000 before Jan. 1, 2013. (WTOP/Alicia Lozano)

Alicia Lozano, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – What started as a simple relocation could turn into the death of a D.C. institution as Backstage, Inc. , the city’s only full-time costume retailer, struggles to find a new home.

The Barracks Row shop recently celebrated its last Halloween in the District, a bittersweet time for employees and loyal patrons of the 31-year-old store. Plans were set for an expansion into Alexandria, where Rip Claassen, the current store manager, hoped to double the inventory and even include a classroom space for training actors. Then Superstorm Sandy hit.

“I had an investor lined up,” Claassen says. “His business took major hits from the hurricane, so he had to back out.”

The news came just weeks before Backstage’s current lease expires on Jan. 1, forcing Claassen to scramble to find the $300,000 needed for a new location.

“I’m getting a little nervous, but I’ve got to do this,” he says. “I have to do this.”

Claassen already has a space on hold if he can raise the money. It would include separate rooms for a dance department, theater script sales, makeup, costumes, office space and two rehearsal classrooms, he says. The trick is spreading the word and raising enough cash before the new year.

“This is a major part of the D.C. theater community, and we’re the second largest theater community in the country,” he says. “This little shop has been a cornerstone … for years.”

People interested in donating can check out Claassen’s IndieGoGo campaign, or visit the Save Backstage Facebook group.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)


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