For Jack and Kathe Sheehan, two high school drama teachers, it started with the purchase of a cop costume in 1973. Jack left his contact information at the store in case the owner wanted to sell. A message was waiting for him when he got home.
Before them, Jack Davis bought the shop on a whim in 1964. Before him it was Anne White, who decided in 1917 she would open her own costume store, amply named The Costumer.
Last weekend, Kathe Sheehan, 62, celebrated the company’s 90th year in the business of providing costumes for Halloween and high school theater productions in every state.
Kathe Sheehan and a staff of 50, and as many as 100 in the theater season, have been carrying on the successful business in three Capital District locations since Jack died in October last year.
We never went in it thinking we would make a lot of money. It seemed like a fun thing to do, and it just took on a life of its own, said Sheehan. She said they originally thought they would only do a couple of theater productions, but the business grew to the point where they have done costumes for people across the country.
From pirates to clown costumes and from Shakespeare productions to `Les Miserables` and `Oklahoma,` The Costumer has become known nationwide as the foremost authority and supplier on a range of costumes.
Business is good, said Sheehan. And it’s never been bad.
It’s an industry that is impervious to recession and even the Great Depression. People are always looking for entertainment, and the store has always been there to help those wishing to entertain.
Founder Anne White’s words ` `There will always be food on your plate` — have been passed on to each owner of the store, said Sheehan.
The company has more than 19,000 items in stock. They can be fitted, rented or bought through one of the three locations in Colonie, Rotterdam Mall and the main store in Schenectady. They are also available online at www.thecostumer.com and through The Costumer catalog, a 128-page what’s-what of costumes, makeup kits and accessories.
`There are others that do it, but we are one of the biggest and one of the first. Jack and Kathe knew there was a niche there, and they pushed their business in that direction,` said Cheryl Borski, purchasing manager for The Costumer.
Borski had been with the company 14 years.
Contrary to popular belief, the store’s busiest season is not Halloween, it’s the high school musical season in March, she said. At that time, high schools across the country, especially in California and Texas where theater is mandatory study, keep The Costumer busy, said Sheehan.
However, those are not the only clients. The business rents and sells to college productions, the MTV Music Awards, off-Broadway productions and once provided makeup for Detroit rockers KISS.
There has never been a need to open stores in other states or regions of the country to meet demand, Sheehan said. The items can be shipped through catalog orders, and the Internet also plays a large role.
The only thing the store has done to keep up with business is buy bigger buildings, she said. The main offices and warehouse first opened on State Street in Schenectady. In 1984 Sheehan relocated the store to an old factory on Barrett Street, and even that building is beginning to fill up, she said.