For Erik Johnsen, the chance to merge a great business opportunity with a lifelong dream was just too good to pass up.
A Columbia County native who majored in business and minored in English at the University at Albany, Johnsen is the new owner of The Costumer, having purchased the longtime Schenectady company from Kathe Sheehan late last year. The Costumer, which sells and rents various costumes and is also heavily involved in outfitting high school theater productions, as well as some professional theater groups, is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2017.
“I’ve kind of taken a midcareer pivot to do something I’ve always wanted to do, and that is to run my own family business,” said Johnsen, who moved recently from the Boston area, having spent the past three years as a stay-at-home dad. “My background is the corporate world, and . . . I’ve had some time to look into different businesses and evaluate these opportunities. When I came across this one, I realized it was something I could be very passionate about. It’s a great opportunity.”
Scotia residents Kathe and Jack Sheehan bought the business from Jack Davis in 1974. Davis ran the place for 10 years, having purchased it from original owner Anna White, who opened her store on State Street in downtown Schenectady 100 years ago. Jack Sheehan died in 2006, leaving his wife in charge, and she remains involved, showing up at the Barrett Street location on a regular basis to assist Johnsen.
“I can’t stress enough how fantastic it is to have someone like Kathe working with me,” said Johnsen, who graduated from Germantown High in 1983. “I really appreciate what she and her husband have done here, and it seems more like they’ve passed the baton to me than just me buying a business. I’ve become a custodian to this wonderful family business, and I feel great about it.”
Johnsen doesn’t enter the theater world without a genuine appreciation of all it can do.
“I am a stage dad, and I know the transformational impact the theater can have,” he said. “I saw what it did for my own son, watching him go from a shy, introverted young boy into a confident person and performer in the arts. That’s why this opportunity lined up so perfectly with the values my wife and I have. The theatrical school mission that The Costumer has displayed over the years is something I really want to be a part of.”
The Costumer, which has a second store on Central Avenue in Colonie, made 30,000 costumes in 2016 for 850 theater productions. This week is particularly busy for The Costumer staff, as it helps the national touring production of the Broadway smash “Something Rotten!” prepare for its eight preview performances next week at Proctors. Sheehan has been at the Barrett Street store just about every day throughout this winter season and is busy helping “Something Rotten!” costume officials get ready for Tuesday’s opening.
“It’s very exciting helping them get ready for the show, and I’ve been here for 42 years, so I’m never going to be too far away,” said Sheehan. “I sold the business more for the business than for myself. It’s been here 100 years, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t go on for another 100 years.
“Erik is only the fourth owner, and I wanted to make sure we got somebody who is going to keep it moving forward.”
An Ithaca native, Sheehan met her husband at SUNY-Geneseo and taught in the Schenectady City School District before joining her husband — a former Schalmont teacher and Amsterdam native — in the family business.
Correction: This story was updated at 11:20 a.m. on Jan. 7. An earlier version included an incorrect spelling of Erik Johnsen's name.