By Marcia Heroux Pounds Sun Sentinel
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) For 40 years, 73 year old Marilynn Wick has owned Costume World, which boasts the nation's largest collection of Broadway wardrobes. In 2013, she began operating The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum. Her business, with its nonprofit theatrical division, employs 125 people.
BOCA RATON, Fla.
At a recent show of "Guys & Dolls" at The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton, there was a bit of a fuss from a late theater-goer trying to get to his seat.
Wick Theatre owner Marilynn Wick was on stage, introducing the show and announcing the theater's next season. Despite the distraction, she didn't miss a beat with her presentation.
Not much rattles the 73-year-old entrepreneur who has worked in real estate, industrial window cleaning, the salvage business, costume business and now theatrical production.
For 40 years, Wick has owned Costume World, which boasts the nation's largest collection of Broadway wardrobes. In 2013, she began operating The Wick Theatre and Costume Museum.
Her business, with its nonprofit theatrical division, employs 125 people.
"She's a miracle worker. She has taken a white elephant and turned it into a fabulous community theater for Boca Raton and for Palm Beach County," said Yvonne Boice-Zucaro, a Boca Raton business owner and philanthropist. She sits with Wick on the board of the county's tourism agency, Discover The Palm Beaches.
"The theater and museum have become a large attraction for Palm Beach County," Boice-Zucaro said.
One of Wick's strengths is that she doesn't accept "no" for an answer, Boice-Zucaro said. "There's nothing she feels she can't do or accomplish just because she's a woman."
In 2013, the building housing the theater faced foreclosure. Costume World leased the building, finally buying it in April of last year for $5.2 million.
Wick saw a perfect opportunity for the community and Costume World. She needed more space for her growing costume collection _ why not buy the theater?
"I love to take bad deals and make them good," Wick said. "You get strong if you have all kinds of experiences in business." Now the theater is in its fifth season, with 3,700 subscribers. Wick expects to have 5,000 subscribers by next season. She has expanded with the costume museum and the Tavern at the Wick restaurant, modeled after Manhattan's Tavern on the Green.
"Between the museum and the Tavern, they're starting to stand on their own," Wick said.
Jan McArt, a long-time actress, director and producer of theater in Boca Raton, said she wasn't surprised that Wick, who had never operated a theater, took on the challenge.
"Nothing would surprise me about Marilynn, she's exceedingly capable and ambitious, in a nice way. Her idea of having the costume museum and the theater is wonderful. She has done a beautiful job of both," said McArt, who once ran a theater in Boca Raton.
McArt said she has rented costumes from Wick since 1978, when she produced the musical "The King and I." Wick "was hard working, inventive, and wanting to please the customer. She has remained that. It's the only costume company I've used in 40 years," she said.
Never mind that Wick's theater experience was primarily in the costume end of the business.
"When your own money is involved, you learn very quickly," McArt said. Wick and her daughter, Kimberly, who curates the costume museum, are detail-oriented, she said. "They've learned as they go along and they've run a beautiful ship."
Wick has personally invested $1.5 million in the theater. She took out a $5 million Small Business Administration-backed loan to renovate and add the costume museum and a restaurant.
While not yet profitable, the 341-seat theater is making progress, the building has since been appraised at $8 million, Wick said.
The April production of "Guys & Dolls," with all original Broadway costumes, was sold out. Letting subscribers choose the theater's upcoming shows is key, she said.
"You may be caught up in doing a wonderful 'Romeo and Juliet,' but nobody wants that. You've got to go with what people want," Wick said.
Costume World may be known to consumers as a place to buy or rent a Halloween or party costume, but the business makes its real money by renting costumes to theaters around the country. Costume World can provide, for example, all 245 costumes needed for the musical "42nd Street." That's why theater managers fly into South Florida from across the country to choose costumes for their upcoming seasons.
"That's a specialty we have, and that's why the business is so successful," she said. "You only have a few ways of surviving. One is if you're a specialty, niche business. And the other is if you take your products and go with the times."
Costume World also provides costumes weekly to NBC-TV's "Saturday Night Live," such as for the show's recent spoof of "Beauty & the Beast."
But the retail costume business has been hurt by rentals available on Amazon and other online sites. Costume World once had seven stores, but now it only has three: in Deerfield Beach, Fla., Dallas and Pittsburgh.
"All of the big chains have cut back. Somebody's telling you something," Wick said.
And Costume World must move from its Deerfield Beach outpost next year because the shopping plaza where it is located has been sold, Wick said.
So Wick is updating Costume World's website, with plans to move the Broadway rental costumes and collectibles to the Pompano Beach warehouse, and expanding to 45,000 square feet. She's not yet sure whether she'll open another brick-and-mortar store.
"This is a real Renaissance for the company right now. You must be always two or three years ahead of what's happening," she said.
Before Costume World and The Wick Theatre, Wick already had many different careers.
When only 24, she applied for a job with a headhunter in Atlanta. When Wick was told the company didn't hire women, she promptly wrote a $2,500 check to cover the recruitment agency's fee. That caught the attention of the male supervisor.
He asked Wick what kind of tires she had on her car, and Wick told him the exact type. Impressed, he hired her.
"I was the first woman ever hired for that business of 66 men, and I did great," Wick said. "I was pretty gutsy. Nothing stopped me."
In her late-20s, she ran her own real estate firm, working in New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia, South Carolina and California.
After moving to South Florida in 1972, Wick operated an industrial window cleaning business that counted Disney World and Epcot among its customers. She closed it in 1986 after opening the costume shop.
She opened the costume shop as a "fun project" with her kids, starting with five Santa suits sewn on her dining room table in Boca Raton. By the 1990s, she was providing costumes to the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus.
Wick has since bought 15 major costume collections, including original Broadway wardrobes from the 142-year-old Dodgers Costumes in New York in 2005 that increased the value of the company to more than $70 million, she said.
Costume World's collection includes Broadway costumes worn by Yule Brynner in "The King and I," and Julie Andrews' embassy ball gown from "My Fair Lady."
"That would go for probably $1.5 million (at auction)," Wick said of Andrews' costume, basing the price on recent sales. She has continued to acquire costume and wardrobe collections, including the late Joan Rivers' wardrobe collection, which is currently being shown at the Broadway Museum in New York.
Wick also recently purchased a portion of Jean Ann Ryan's costume collection in Fort Lauderdale. Ryan, who has operated for more than 35 years, continues to produce entertainment aboard cruise ships and for corporate events.
"She had the original 'Meet Me in St. Louis' (Broadway) costumes, which I've been trying to get her to sell to me for years," Wick said. The Ryan collection brings Costume World's original Broadway show collections to a total of 56.