Faces: Marilynn Wick, Owner Costume World


Costume World owner Marilynn Wick

There was never any doubt in Marilynn Wick’s mind that the show must go on, which is undoubtedly one of the reasons why she bought the Caldwell Theatre this spring, a deal that had been in the works for a year. Wick, owner of Costume World and the Costume World Broadway Collection, the world’s largest collection of costumes from the American theater, has always been fearless when it comes to new “adventures.” The Caldwell, which will be known as the Wick Theatre and Museum, is just the latest in a lifetime of calculated gambles.

A small-town farm girl who grew up in Sugar Grove, Pa., Wick and her two young daughters moved to Boca Raton in 1972 to be near her ex-husband and the girls’ father. Back then, she had dabbled in teaching and real estate, but ended up starting a window-cleaning company specializing in high-rise buildings, which were just then starting to sprout all over the region. The venture was a huge success, but it paled in comparison to what Santa Claus would bring a few years later.

“It was the winter of 1976, and the kids wanted to do something for the holidays to earn a little pocket money,” she recalls. They decided to make a Santa Claus suit (on the kitchen table) and posted a one-line ad in the local paper offering it for rent.

“The phone rang off the wall,” Wick says. “I instantly saw the need for it. I went to visit the only guy in the business; [he] worked out of his house in Fort Lauderdale. I kept thinking, ‘Look at all the occasions we could have,’ and then I started thinking maybe I should start a little store—a costume store—and put a little line in the Yellow Pages.”

That’s how Costume World, now in Deerfield Beach at Federal Highway and 10th Avenue, got its start. There are stores now in Pittsburgh, Dallas and Austin, Texas. It’s a business that Wick found fascinating from the start.

“No one ever comes into a costume shop mad,” she says. “No one comes to Costume World unless they have a special occasion. Every day there is something you have never thought of before—somebody wants to be Paul Revere, or somebody comes in and says, ‘I’m a detective and I have to change my disguise.’ Or ‘I’m a burn patient and need that special theatrical makeup to cover this up.’ Every year we do about five knights in shining armor because somebody is going to propose—and that’s how they are going to do it.”

Wick is not immune to the lure of dressing up; she’s been known to show up at cocktail parties dressed as a flapper, or on a first-class flight to Buffalo as the Easter bunny. She once spent a night out on the town in Pittsburgh with her store employees in a cozy Smurf costume because she had left her winter coat at home.

Still, it’s the Broadway Collection that seems dearest to Wick’s heart—and the inspiration for her buying the Caldwell. The collection is now housed in a nondescript office park in Pompano Beach, nondescript until you walk in the door.

The Broadway Collection begins with a red-carpeted lobby flanked by costumed mannequins and Broadway memorabilia. “Hello, Dolly!” is blasting out of hidden speakers; massive double doors loom ahead, to be opened only when it is time. And Marilynn Wick will tell you when it is time.

At exactly 11 a.m., a lavishly costumed young woman flings open the doors for a tour (which includes lunch) of a massive warehouse festooned with theatrical backdrops and jammed with thousands of costumes arranged by the Broadway plays they were made for. “The King and I” is displayed in a tableau with a mannequin in Yul Brynner’s glittering pajamas, Gertrude Lawrence’s voluminous ball gown sailing next to him. A little farther back, mannequins in black and white from the Ascot scene of the original production of “My Fair Lady” stand at attention. And it goes on: Dick Tracy’s yellow trench coat, “The Sound of Music,” “Into the Woods,” “42nd Street,” “Camelot.” You name it—the dazzling history of Broadway theater is here, and it will be moved to the Wick Theatre this fall.

Kim Wick, one of Marilynn’s daughters, who is vice president of the company and director of the museum, says the new space will involve “cosmetic changes” and renovation to the theater and two lobbies, but then there is a serious overhaul.

“We will have a full kitchen so we will do tapas and cappuccinos and desserts,” Kim says. “And the back, which is almost 10,000 square feet, will be the new home of the Broadway Collection,” with a backstage/insider tour-like feel, including a Tavern on the Green luncheon with artifacts from the original Tavern that Costume World bought at auction in 2010.

Wick knows she’s taken on something big in buying the Caldwell. But it’s a dream she believes in, and the culmination of 40-some years on the periphery of Broadway. “I am kind of fearless,” she says. “I think you can talk yourself out of anything. To me, [buying the theater] is taking a bad deal and making it good. We are walking in and giving that theater life.”

To continue reading, please pick up a copy of the July-August Boca Ratonmagazine