Studio dancers and teachers everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Taffy Epstein, who based her costume company and line of coast-to-coast dance retail stores on the then-radical ideas of style, quality, and convenience. She died June 10 at age 92.
Art Stone says he built his own successful costume company by “copying everything she did. I learned more from her than anyone in the industry,” he says of his longtime friend. “She was the leader-the first to come out with a color costume catalog, the first to open more than one store. She was quite a woman, and I w ill miss her desperately.”
Epstein was born Harriett Gombossy on July 20, 1920, in Akron, Ohio.
An amateur hoofer, she shared a love of the arts with her h sband, Harvey Epstein, a shoe designer. Noting the growing interest in tap shoes, the two opened a shop In 1954. Officially Cleveland Dance Footwear, it was known as
“Taffy’s place,” the Epsteins’ daughter, Susan Epstein, told Dance Studio Life. Taffy Epstein, a woman with impeccable style and an indomitable “Auntie Mame” attitude, plunged in. In the days when leotards were unshapely cotton garments and many dance students sported recital costumes sewn by their moms, Epstein demanded well-designed, top-quality garments. One Taffy’s store expanded to become a chain of 14, from Seattle to Dallas to New York City.
Taffy’s was the first retail distributor of Danskin tights, Susan Epstein said, and the first to design and sell dance dresses. To support studio industry retailers, Taffy Epstein worked toward the creation of the United Dance Merchants of America. She hired innovative employees and listened to them, threw legendary parties, feverishly followed the Cleveland Indians, and never stopped taking risks.
In 1990 Epstein sold Taffy’s to Capezio– when it “stopped being “fun,” she said in published stories.
“It all just sort of happened,” Susan Epstein said of her mother’s storied career “It was the right place, the right time, and the right product.”