Monthly Archives: October 2007

Shops of Horror

Shops of Horror

Where to find unique costumes for Halloween.

October 18, 2007
For those who indulge in Halloween, there is a grand spectrum of fantasy accessories available in the greater Birmingham area ranging from the terrifying to the hilarious in the form of imaginative costumes, gags and props, rubber masks, and other magnificent horrors.

Some of the costumes available at Backstage Florist & Gifts

Backstage Florists & Gifts has a fascinating selection of costumes for rent (cost: $25 to $150). “We’ve got pretty much anything you want to be,” says Hank Ponder, the engaging owner of the 23-year-old shop. The store’s impressive selection includes Renaissance costumes represented by European royalty and Shakespeare-era garments; Old South apparel including Confederate uniforms and Southern belle hoop skirts; and various cartoon mascots who, for copyright reasons, must be referred to as Cat with the Hat, the “Purple Dinosaur,” etc.

Ponder explains that the costumes can’t be taken to a dry cleaner. “The sequins come back missing and the velvet can be eaten away by the chemicals they use. We have a woman who specializes in cleaning them.” Interestingly, Ponder says that after the September 11 attacks, a letter was sent from the federal authorities stating that civil service and other similar costumes could no longer be rented out. “That includes police, firemen, stewardesses and pilots,” says Ponder, adding, “We can’t even rent astronaut costumes!”

Backstage Florist and Gifts offers garb from the 1920s to the 1970s. The 1980s are represented only by mullet wigs. Ponder says that pirate and Batman costumes are currently the most popular. The Batman outfit is an impressive latex uniform that includes a cape with a ten-foot span and a retractable frame. “The flapper outfits, that’s a popular one. Women love the flapper. She’s a staple in the industry,” he says. “We also have Tippi Hedren in The Birds,” grins Ponder as he pulls from the rack a floral-print dress with several stuffed blackbirds attached to it.

Paper Works Outlet offers witches’ brooms ($2.95), human skull candles on sticks, plastic barbed wire garlands ($4.95), and a set of large paper replicas of two famous paintings with a sinister touch: “Mona Lisa” appears as a vampire with fangs and blood drooling from her mystical smile; “American Gothic” features a farmer as a rotting cadaver missing an eyeball and his wife a vampire with a bloody lip and fangs. A dozen squishy fake eyeballs are available for $1.99.

Hoover’s Party City has the creepiest and naughtiest collection of costumes and props. For 99 cents each, the store offers wall-clinging objects: Sticky Body Part 1 (a gelatinous-looking red glob); Sticky Body Part 2 (a six-fingered hand); Sticky Body Part 3 (it appears to be a splattered eyeball). Perhaps most disturbing are the authentic-looking rubber body parts on bloody paper towels in Styrofoam containers, wrapped in cellophane. They are sold for $9.95 as Cannibal Meat Market products. Body parts include a bloody severed hand and a bloody heart. Each is stamped “USDA Prime” and contains nutritional information. Cinema Secrets sells an adhesive rubber strip that looks just like a slit throat for $9.99. Its packaging touts “used by professionals.”

If you want your five-year-old to look like a pimp this Halloween, pick up the “Mac Daddy” costume ($29.95). The outfit includes a black coat with mock leopard-skin lapels and a huge, gold dollar sign medallion worn around the neck. There’s also a “rapsta” outfit, consisting of the requisite baggy pants, ridiculous hat, and the aforementioned gold dollar sign pendant.

Sexuality remains a popular Halloween theme. There’s the Big Daddy “self-adhesive hairy chest” ($6.95), which can be used interchangeably with the 1970s Disco Stud, Macho Man, and Caveman costumes. And, of course, the Hospital Honey nurse accessories that include fishnet stockings, garters (“with realistic-looking hypodermic” attached), and a plastic nurse’s bag that can carry all kinds of interesting things. &

Backstage Florist & Gifts

2233 6th Avenue South


Paper Works Outlet

3700 1st Avenue North


Party City

1615 Montgomery Highway


Open Season

Open Season

Southside’s entertainment districts have become a hunting ground for muggers, car thieves, and murderers.

October 04, 2007

Even as the mayor apparently refuses to recognize that Birmingham is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to live, crime continues to haunt the city’s merchants and residents. Mayor Bernard Kincaid speaks of a “perception of crime” as he seeks re-election on October 9. Candidates vying for Kincaid’s job and Birmingham residents, however, believe differently.

Über-bohemian: Per criminology’s “broken window” theory, some feel that Five Points South has become so riddled with “colorful” characters that a signal is being sent to potential criminals that their crimes will go largely unnoticed. (Photographs by Mark Gooch.) (click for larger version)


In Five Points South, recent robberies of patrons walking to their vehicles from various establishments have drawn attention to the area. But not many owners or employees at bars and restaurants are willing to share crime anecdotes. One exception is bartender Cat Hawkins at Dave’s Pub, who says that the area seems to be getting more dangerous. Hawkins says that female patrons at the bar are now escorted to their cars by a security guard after dark.

James Little is president of the Five Points South Merchants Association. Little constantly chases away vagrants from the sidewalk in front of the area coffee shop he manages. While talking about the problem in front of the business on a recent afternoon, he confronted street people, then returned to explain, “Certain people—transients, vagrants—know that [Five Points South] is an area where they can go and can hang out and drink, do drugs, panhandle, harass . . . Because nobody will say anything to them. Nobody will question them.” Little says that such behavior is not tolerated in Vestavia Hills, Mountain Brook, Hoover, or Homewood. Panhandlers actually come into his business and ask customers for money. Little has urged police to tell vagrants that they must leave the area instead of simply sending them across the street, where they continue to loiter. “I know a lot of businesses in this area are hurting right now,” says Little. “This area could possibly be like Woodlawn in a couple of years.”

Frank Stitt, owner of Highlands Bar & Grill, says the city must address problems in the area. “City Hall needs to re-energize their emphasis on making Five Points a secure, a safe, an attractive, a clean area—whether it’s the street departments, whether it’s more policemen, whether it’s more lighting, whether it’s security cameras. We need all of that. We also need the police to actually be accountable for not allowing these street criminals, transients, vagrants, and drug dealers that hang out here. The church [Highlands United Methodist] invites them all for coffee and donuts and washing laundry every morning, and then they just pretty much use the Five Points South area as their home base. I think the church certainly has good intentions. . . . But to leave them here so half of them can deal drugs and just get into trouble all day long is a bad end result . . . City Hall and the police department have not followed through on helping make Five Points a secure and attractive area.” Stitt admits that the police have a difficult job, but notes that other municipalities in the county do not allow such activity.

“These aren’t narcotics, just muscle relaxers”: One homeless man shares meds with another in an alley near Five Points South. (click for larger version)


On August 19, after a man was found shot to death in the 1200 block of 20th Street South near Bell Bottoms nightclub on Highland Avenue, the department said that police presence would be beefed up in Five Points South. On September 22, a man stabbed his wife several times on a Saturday afternoon in front of the fountain across the street from The Grape restaurant.

• • •
T.C. Cannon has owned the bar TC in the Lakeview entertainment district for the past two decades. Before that, he and his brother operated the Upside Down Plaza near Five Points South for 25 years. Cannon has decided that he’s had enough of the local criminal element. He has put TC up for sale and has given up plans to open a bar in a building he recently purchased, the former Battery Warehouse a block from TC. “It was going to be my last bar, a super-duper bar,” says Cannon. “But I’m heading north somewhere. . . . Crime is out of control.”

(click for larger version)


In the middle of the afternoon six months ago, Cannon drove to the Battery Warehouse building only to find two men dismantling one of his vehicles he had parked in front. He got out with his .38 pistol and confronted the thieves, who fled. According to Cannon, police were called but it took half an hour for a lone officer to arrive.

Cannon has watched the neighborhood deteriorate for some time. A little over a year ago, a dead body was found in a parking lot adjacent to TC in the early morning hours. “Here in Lakeview, it’s getting like Five Points South. If it wasn’t for valet parking, the nice restaurants would not exist at all,” said Cannon. “Now it’s personal. The thieves, when they see a golden opportunity walking down the street, they sit in the shadows and wait on some good victims. . . . Why break into the car when you’ve got them?”

Kelly Pierce has been a bartender at The Oasis in the Lakeview district for more than six years. In 2005, she and two employees were robbed at gunpoint while closing the nightclub. Pierce says that automobile break-ins have been the primary problem in the past year. She does not feel as secure as she once did. “I used to close that bar by myself and be fine with it. But I would not want to do that again,” says Pierce. “It’s been scarier the past two and a half years.”

Pierce had her 1984 Chevy truck stolen twice on Southside. The first time, Bessemer police recovered it in a Lowe’s parking lot with “a ball joint broken out,” said Pierce. When she went to pick up her truck, there was another license plate on it, presumably stolen. When she asked the Birmingham police officer present if he wanted the plate, Pierce said she was told to “just throw it away . . . don’t worry about it.”

The truck was stolen a second time in May of this year from in front of her apartment on Idlewild Circle, where she moved after the first truck theft occurred.

• • •
South Avondale resident Brent Marshall told mayoral candidates at the Redmont Community mayoral forum on September 20 about crime in his neighborhood. Marshall and his family returned home from a vacation this past summer to find a bullet beneath the window of his three-year-old daughter’s bedroom. In an interview, he elaborated on crime in his neighborhood, especially the questionable activity at a nearby apartment complex on Fifth Avenue South.

“There’s lots of gang activity . . . I [often] hear gunfire,” he says. “There’s not enough of a police presence.” Marshall’s home has not been burglarized, but his neighbor’s house has been broken into twice, and several other houses on the block have been burglarized over the past two years. He says that residents willing to revive neighborhoods deserve better treatment. “People take an interest in Birmingham,” said Marshall. “People take a risk to move into an area like this and try to establish a community. People are on the verge of leaving—especially people with children and families.” &

Scientific Suds

Scientific Suds

The McWane Center explores the science of beer.

October 04, 2007


On October 11, the McWane Center—a hands-on science museum that is a destination point for kids—will offer scientific amusement for adults: the opportunity to sample exotic beers at McWane’s “Science Uncorked: The Science of Beer.” Beers that will be available for tasting include Rodenbach Grand Cru (a Flemish sour ale), Ommegang Witte (a pale golden wheat ale with a hint of citrus), Lindemans Lambics, and a sampling from Germany’s Ayinger brewery. There will also be some seasonal beers on hand, such as Abita Pecan Ale, Shipyard Pumpkin, and Paulaner Oktoberfest.Brewers from the Siebel Institute of Technology and World Brewing Academy will be on site sharing expertise in the brewing sciences. The Chicago-based Siebel Institute has been in operation since 1872, when Dr. John Ewald Siebel began his brewing research. Over the next two decades, Siebel wrote more than 200 books and articles on the fine art of making beer. He passed away one month before Prohibition, when the institute was forced to expand its curriculum to include baking, refrigeration, engineering, milling, and the making of carbonated beverages. The school’s focus returned to brewing in 1933 when Prohibition was repealed. The Science of Beer will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 11. Admission is $10 for the general public and $5 for McWane Center members. “Heavy” hors d’oeuvres will be served. The beers can be sampled only by those age 21 and older. Music will be provided by The Spots. Reservations are strongly encouraged. Tickets may be purchased online at or by calling 714-8414.

(Illustration by Emily Flake.) (click for larger version)