Downtown Tucson and nearby North Fourth Avenue are home to year-round costume shops that have catered to customers since as early as the 1970s, in contrast to national chain stores that open up just for the Halloween season.

Tucson Thrift Shop, for one, has been in business 31 years. "Halloween is growing and growing," said store owner Arlene Leaf, who prides herself on authentic vintage costumes.

"My whole store is dedicated to Halloween," she said. "It's just fun and very creative, as opposed to just buying a whole package costume."

That "creative experience" motto is shared by other costume stores in the shopping district.

Hydra Leather and More has been around for nearly 16 years and is known for unique and funky fashions.

"I'm very proud of my store," Hydra owner Margo Susco said. "I travel the world to stay ahead of the trends and offer things that other people don't carry."

Susco said Halloween is hands-down her most popular season of the year.

"This year what I'm seeing is that people want to put costumes together, as opposed to the package costume," she said. "I have both - that's where I have the edge."

Even with the growing trend of national chain "pop-up" stores, such as Spirit Halloween, Susco said she's not too worried about her business this holiday season.

"Initially when the pop-up stores came up, I was concerned because I was thinking, 'OK, they're a chain store and they're able to price me out of the market,' " Susco said. "But I came to find my costumes are just as competitively priced as theirs."

This year especially, Susco said she's doing all she can to make sure her costumes are affordable.

"I'm very aware that people are in a financial bind but still want to dress up," she said. "This year I wanted to set the pricing so more people can buy costumes and dress up."

Susco said most of her costumes range from $20 to $50. She's extending her business hours in the coming week for those last-minute shoppers in need of Halloween attire.

Susco's passion for fashion runs in the family. Her sister, Kanella Conklin, is the owner of Kanella's, a clothing and costume shop that's been in business for 27 years.

"We have costumes, shoes and all the accessories, and we try to be competitive pricewise," Conklin said.

While she acknowledges that chain pop-up stores definitely are competition for her local shop, Conklin said that what she offers Tucsonans is different.

"We're here year-round, we employ people year-round, and our customer service is impeccable," she said.

Like her sister, Conklin said she also has made an effort to keep her costume prices reasonable this year due to the economy. Most costumes at Kanella's range from $20 to $50, she said.

"We really care," Conklin said. "If we sell you something, it's going to look perfect on you. We want to make you happy so you keep coming back."

Customers seem to agree. Check out what some locals had to say while shopping at their store of choice:

Hype about Hydra

"We heard about it from a friend," said University of Arizona student Jenny Sawada. "She said the costumes were really cute, so we wanted to check it out. We've been going to a bunch of different Tucson stores, like Buffalo Exchange, Party City and Spirit, so we wanted to try Hydra just to see what we could find."

"I came because they have lots of cool little accessories," UA student Monique Quiroz said. "I was thinking I could find something that would work with my costume."

They love to sift through the thrift

"It's very unique, very different," 18-year-old Erika Niimi said of Tucson Thrift Shop. "As with all of Tucson, it's very charming and it has its own culture. You can find a lot of interesting pieces."

"I like the bohemian vibe," said longtime customer Kelley Boyt, who is a writer. "I like that they have a mix of new costumes and older vintage costumes. The prices and selection are much better here. This is my favorite place."

A calling for Kanella's

"You'll find everything here - lingerie, shoes, costumes, biker stuff and purses. … There's a little bit of everything," said 22-year-old Daniella Garcia.

Maggie Giuffrida is a University of Arizona journalism student who is a Star apprentice. Contact her at starapprentice@azstarnet.com