Dressed for Success

by Lisa Mulcahy
The Costumer
The Costumer

The Costumer Is Thriving At 100 Years Young

The Costumer, a full-service costume sales and rental company with locations in both Schenectady and Albany, NY, as well as a thriving online business, is celebrating their 100th year in business. Quite an achievement, but an accomplishment that’s no surprise to their loyal repeat clients. 

Originally founded by Anna White, The Costumer is today owned and stewarded by Erik Johnsen and his family. They maintain the business’s commitment to its theatrical customers, especially the academic theater market, with a personalized approach. The staff are experts at listening to the needs of both scholastic clientele and commercial/community theater directors and designers, so that every production’s needs can be met with precision. Johnsen believes the combination of the people he serves as customers and the people he works with as colleagues are the real reasons for The Costumer’s legendary longevity.

SD: How did the Johnsen family came to own The Costumer?
Erik Johnsen: Over the years, our family became involved in theater primarily through our son’s participation in scholastic programs. I don’t have extensive experience in theater myself, but as a “stage dad”, I have witnessed first-hand how scholastic theater and the broader performing arts can have a positive impact on the lives of students. So, it is the mission of supporting scholastic theater and being part of a greater good that was the catalyst for my interest in The Costumer. As I learned about the rich 100-year history of the company, it was both inspiring and humbling. When I think about Mrs. Anna White starting the business in 1917, before she even had the right to vote, it provides a perspective on how our family is just the next custodian of a great tradition. Most recently, I took the baton pass from the Sheehan family—previously, they had nurtured and grown the business, starting back in 1974.

Tell us a little about the team at the company?
We are very, very fortunate to have a very committed team with a nice blend of skills, experience and youth. The Costumer has always attracted inspired and passionate employees. We have 33 year-round employees between our two locations and our average tenure is just over 10-years. Specific to our theater department, we have 14 year-round employees with an average tenure of 12-years. We have many longstanding employees with lots of experience that are directly connected to the company’s history. In fact, our lead draper/designer, Helen Porter, has been with us for 28-years and our production coordinator, Anne Byrd, has been with us for 21-years. I have only been here a short period of time, but I already feel part of that tradition. We have great stories from over the years that are constantly being shared and relived. 

Talk about the focus of the company on helping customers realize their theatrical visions.
I firmly believe that nothing else matters unless you have a team and service platform that can reliably execute for the customer. We have a talented team that consistently provides a combination of reliability and creativity that is unparalleled. On the creative side, we can provide as little or as much support as needed. Often a client will have a very clear understanding of what their vision is and how we can execute on it for them. Other times, our creative input and support through the process is needed in a much more intensive manner. We can provide a perspective on how we have partnered with others on a particular production, how to balance creative and practical issues, and most of all, we can provide options. This is how we’ve developed and maintained such longstanding relationships. Our centennial celebration is a celebration of these relationships as much as anything. There is a unique satisfaction and pride when reflecting on how we, a relatively small company in Schenectady, NY, can play a supporting role in shaping skills and memories that will last a lifetime.