Former Teacher Finds New Work in Disguise

Sue Redman's resume is all over the vocational map: preschool and high school teacher; foster family social worker; and publisher of the Altadena Chronicle, a weekly newspaper which she and her husband sold after five years in the late 1970s. Ten years ago she made another radical career shift, only this time she wanted to do something that she said had no redeeming social value. So she opened the Old Town Costume Co. in Pasadena.

"A friend was storing some costumes from an out-of-business costume shop so I bought the costumes about 5,000 and found a place to put them and opened up a shop. We (currently) have about 15,000 costumes.

"We have two things we specialize in: individual high-quality costumes and costumes for small theater and school productions. We have everything from Santa Claus and Easter Bunny to all periods of historical costumes. The Renaissance, Victorian and the 1950s and 1960s. I have a staff of five, including three designers that provide specially made costumes. We are working every day to make things, but we also buy them. I could make something in a half an hour, such as a cape, or something that takes a week, like a Renaissance gown.

"The range for a rental for three days is $35 to $65. The average cost is $55. If it's a school production, we give them a 15 percent discount and they can keep the costume for the run of the play for the same cost as a three-day rental. We want to support the school programs and this makes it affordable.

"We also have whatever the trend is masks of presidents and costumes based on whatever the film industry is doing.

"We used to sell magic tricks, but we gave up about three years ago. We can order tricks for people but we don't keep them in stock. We wanted to concentrate on costumes.

"Our busiest time is Halloween. We do about 35 percent of annual sales in October. Most of that is the last two weeks. During the rest of the year, people rent costumes for plays, children's school presentations and parties. Adults have parades, masquerade parties and corporate business presentations. People advertise their businesses with a costume. If they have a fish restaurant, for example, they rent a shark or a lobster and they stand outside and wave in front of their shop.

"Sales in 2000 were about $250,000. Last year they were down about 20 percent. We're a luxury business. So we were affected severely by Sept. 11 and the recession."

David Greenberg

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.