From cobwebs and eerie music to zombies dressed in high school sweatshirts, Dove Thiselton has meticulously pieced together the props and sets that make up her new St. Charles horror shop.
A "Stranger Things" alphabet board and life-size Demogorgon monster, which Thiselton has spent hours crafting herself, take up a corner of Ghoulish Mortals at 228 W. Main St. One kid-friendly area is filled with decor resembling the Haunted Mansion, and another contains a mad scientist laboratory.
In the back of the store, which is geared toward teens and adults, a creepy clown greets visitors through a carnival ticket booth, and a mutant creature sits on a gurney in a blood-splattered hospital room.
Each prop, sticker, book and piece of artwork is strategically placed throughout the store based on its theme and level of scariness, Thiselton said. She and her husband, Warwick Price, spent more than a year building the scenery and arranging Ghoulish Mortals exactly how they envisioned it.
Even after a soft opening in April and a grand opening late last month, Thiselton said she's constantly searching for new inventory to add to the ambience.
"It's like decorating a dollhouse when you're a little girl," she said. "It's a labor of love."
While living in southern California, Thiselton and Price frequently explored the area's "amazing circuit" of retail horror shops, she said. When they moved to St. Charles three years ago, they were shocked to learn that such stores are scarce in the Chicago area.
Hoping to expose local residents to the stories and creatures of her childhood, Thiselton started toying with the idea of creating a horror-themed booth at craft fairs and festivals. That concept later was developed into a full-blown retail store -- a new venture for Thiselton, who previously worked as a children's photographer.
Of all the store's offerings, Thiselton said she's most proud of the activities and props catered toward children.
"It's fun to have little doses when you're a kid -- little scares you can conquer to kind of bolster their confidence and bravery," she said, pointing to her frequent trips to the Haunted Mansion attraction at Disneyland as a child. "I think it's important to have a place like that because I certainly did."
The horror shop -- not to be confused with a costume or Halloween store -- allows kids to bring in their own monster drawings to have made into hand-sewn plush creatures, Thiselton said. Visitors can get a picture of their heads in jars or their tattoos made into a prop that looks like flayed skin.
The store's basement level will start operating this fall as an activity room for art shows, games, craft sessions and movie showings, she said. Customers also can rent it out for gatherings such as birthday parties, office events or bridal showers.