SCHENECTADY — Halloween is the most wonderful time of the year for those in the costume business, and after a long slowdown due to COVID, they’re especially eager for it to arrive.
The Costumer on Thursday cut the ribbon on its new flagship store in Mohawk Harbor, which had a soft opening last month after the retail operation moved from Colonie. Customers filtered in during the celebration to look at the masks, makeup, and macabre animatronic ghouls that line the shelves from floor to above eye level.
Erik and Bonnie Johnsen bought The Costumer in late 2016, becoming just the fourth owners since it was founded in Schenectady in 1917. It was a good fit for them and they got off to a good start with it before the COVID pandemic slashed its revenue in early 2020.
“It’s been a long year and a half for us, so we are grateful that we are here today,” she told the group assembled for Thursday’s grand opening. “It’s kind of like a rebirth. With COVID we’ve had a really tough year.”
As it redirects retail customers to the Mohawk Harbor showroom, the company will continue its operations on Barrett street in a slightly revised format: The warehouse space at 1020-1030 Barrett will be expanded and 1031 Barrett will become the new e-commerce fulfillment center, a function previously performed at the Colonie property.
The Schenectady County Metroplex Development Authority agreed to provide a $210,000 grant to The Costumer for improvements to the two Barrett Street properties and for the Mohawk Harbor space.
Bonnie Johnsen said Halloween is to The Costumer what Christmas is to most retailers. It’s not the only costume-intense holiday, though. New Year’s Eve is big. Dance schools account for a lot of sales this time of year. And there are plenty of people who don’t need an excuse for a little cosplay, or a themed party.
But equally important to The Costumer’s business model is theatrical production. The company has more than 150,000 rental costumes in its warehouse. In a typical year before 2020, it was sending out more than 32,000 to equip the casts of more than 1,000 productions. In 2020, theatrical productions were canceled in great numbers.
Johnsen said school districts seem to be holding back to see what direction the COVID pandemic takes before committing to holding the fall theater season. The fall season is shorter than the spring season in the best of times, so this hesitation raises the possibility of cancellation by default.
There’s been more interest already in the spring 2022 season, she said, so there’s optimism for the coming year.
The Costumer was a midlife career change for the Johnsens.
Bonnie previously was in education; Eric was in banking and was looking for a small business to acquire and operate.
School theater had been transformative for their younger son, Tyler, and they thought the costume shop would be a good fit for their next chapter.
“Once we found this business and the mission that the previous owners really built up, the scholastic piece, it was something we were really excited about,” Bonnie said. “We had this quiet little kid growing up and he started performing and it changed his life. It’s a mission we can really stand behind.”