Morris Novelty

A family-owned party supply, costume, and novelty store operating since the early 1980s. Closed in 2005 and burned in 2011.

About this Property

#Reason for Demolition

Morris Novelty, the business, closed in around 2007 when the owner, Ken Stebenne, walked away. It’s not that simple, though. A few years earlier in the summer of 2005, Ken’s son Mark, only 35 at the time, died of alcohol-induced cardiac arrhythmia. Ken placed two 911 calls to get an ambulance on the scene, but the 6-ton ambulance would not cross a 9-ton-rated bridge to get theree1. Mr. Stebenne felt that these precious seconds cost Mark his life.

The grief in combination with a legal battle took Mr. Stebenne’s focus away from his businesses, Pleasure Island in Swansea and Morris Novelty in Pawtucket. The Swansea banquet facility was sold in 20092.

Building and fire code violations along with their associated fines piled up in Pawtucket. In 2008, there was a sign for a real-estate auction on the building and the building was sold at a tax sale. In June 2009 after the sale, it looked much the same as it did in our photos.

Under new ownership, but with very little upkeep done to the building, a fire broke out on July 26th, 2011, around 8:15 in the evening. Because the building was being used for storage, and the materials being stored were mostly plastics, and because the building was unoccupied, fire fighters stayed outside to battle the blaze3.

The building was a total loss and it was torn down a few months later.

#Current Events

The area where this building stood is a parking lot for the nearby businesses.

#History

I went into this shop around 2005 or 2006 to get some gory supplies for a Kickball team, Zomboree. Our theme was zombies, wouldn’t you know, so this was the perfect place to get some fake fingers and the like. Most fly-by-night Halloween stores are only around for a month or two, and then are replaced by a Christmas store, which is replaced by a Valentine’s store, etc… This place was open year round.

The inside was dusty, and most of the product was pretty old-looking. But how “young” of a fake rubber finger did I need? There were the typical masks and gag body parts, of course, but there were also whole set-ups that could be rented to turn your living room into a Casino or a foggy bog or a Superhero’s lair. Popcorn machines, roulette tables, a fully-articulated skeleton, tiki-themed decorations, general party supplies, and lots of odd life size cardboard cut outs of celebrities.

I loved it… they had just what I needed, and they felt like a mom and pop store from way back.


Near as we can tell from news reports and from the anecdotes, the original owner, “Old man Morris” had the business until the early 80s, when he presumably sold it to Mr. Ken Stebenne. On their now defunct website was the claim that the company was in business since 1933. Another visitor commented that the business was previously located in the Slater Cotton building, and that this former building was a furniture store.


From a Pawtucket Historical Society survey, 1990 (with our additions)

Three story mill building. Two lower stories are brick and of typical construction (with a raised cornice of a brick pattern along the top). The upper floor is wooden with minimum pitch roof (that has now been vinyl-sided). Has full height brick facade facing the street behind a later single story storefront addition. Most windows have been painted or boarded over.

#In the News

Pawtucket novelty shop being torn down

by R.J. Heim,
WJAR | October 6, 2011

Demolition began this week on the Pawtucket building that housed the go-to-place for Halloween accessories in the 1980s up until a few years ago.

Morris Novelty on Main Street burned down this summer. The cause of the fire has not been determined.

Former owner Ken Stebenne was at the scene Thursday, having salvaged one last artifact from the business that meant so much to him and his family.

“I did get the opportunity to go in and look at all the memories,” Stebenne said.

When Stebenne started his business in the 1980s, it was just novelties, knick-knacks and such. The Halloween stuff and theatre costumes happened by chance.

“As weird at it may seem, I had bikers coming in and people coming in and I would rent a cape and a mask and get a price, 10 bucks,“ Stebenne said. ”And that grew into 3,000 costumes.”

From there, the business grew in the 100-year-old structure. But intense competition came along.

“I would constantly have to reinvent myself,” Stebenne said.

Stebenne also owned the wedding and banquet facility Pleasure Island in Swansea. But after the tragic death of one of his sons there — he said because an ambulance wouldn’t cross the weight-limit-disputed bridge — he was grief stricken, and lost interest in the day-to-day operation of Morris Novelty.

That led to fire and building code violations and fines. Stebenne, according to published reports, abandoned the building and it was sold in a tax sale last year.

The fire in July was the end of an era.

“Sad chapter in my life. And we’ll just move on and go forward,” Stebenne said. “You know time has its way.”

The demolition will take weeks. The owners of the MAACO auto body and paint shop next door plan to purchase the land for additional parking.

  1. Pleasure Island owner sues over death, Jay Pateakos, November 6 2008. Captured August 21, 2020. “Pleasure Island owner Kenneth Stebenne has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in Fall River District Court against the Swansea Ambulance Corp. after the Aug. 10, 2005, death of his son Mark on the island. Stebenne claims the death was caused by negligence on the Ambulance Corp’s part.” https://www.heraldnews.com/x199491230/Pleasure-Island-owner-sues-town-for-sons-death 

  2. Former Swansea banquet facility sold for $462K, Jay Pateakos, June 4 2009. Captured August 21, 2020. “The former popular banquet and wedding facility known as Pleasure Island was recently sold for a total of $462,908 according to Bristol County Registry of Deeds.” https://www.heraldnews.com/article/20090604/NEWS/306048851 

  3. Fire destroys former novelty warehouse, NBC News, July 26 2011. Captured August 21, 2020. https://turnto10.com/archive/fire-destroys-former-novelty-warehouse