Today’s Salute to American Success goes to Harvey Ricard, owner of the Connecticut Stage Company -- a costume and theatre production shop in business for more than 25 years.
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It all started in 1985, with VCR’s.
“My next door neighbor got one and it was like magic,” Ricard said with a laugh. “I went over there and we watched a scene two or three times, we just kept rewinding it.”
So he did the most reasonable thing -- he bought a VCR store and started selling and repairing them.
“I didn’t know anything about it,” Ricard said. “Zilch, zippo, nada.”
He learned pretty quick, and it turned out to be a smart investment -- in those glory days of the VCR, his first unit sold for $895. But that honeymoon period didn’t last long.
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“Once the price on the damn things went down to nothing, nobody would repair it,” Ricard said.
Fortunately, right around the same time VCR’s were seeing themselves out the door, Ricard was working part-time as a technical director for a stage lighting company.
After three different people asked to use a disco ball he had rented, he thought, “why not buy one?” So from then on he bought lighting equipment on demand and rented it out to his customers, successfully repurposing his VCR store into the Connecticut Stage Company.
One Halloween he stocked his shelves with a few masks, in the spirit of festivity and thinking maybe he’d sell a few. “Son of a buckaroo, I sold 10 of them!” Ricard said. He knew a good thing when he saw it.
“We just kept expanding, first with lighting, then masks, then costumes,” Ricard said. “Eventually I had to buy a bigger building.”
So he bought a 1,500-square-foot building, filled that one up, and bought a 25,000-square-foot building. Again, it didn’t stay empty for long. “If you came in now, it’s completely full, wall-to-wall, to the ceiling, it’s unbelievable!” Ricard said.
Today, the Connecticut Stage Company is quite the sight to behold.
“This place is kind of like a museum, people will bring their kids just to look,” Ricard said. Halloween is scary at his shop -- mostly because it’s so crowded. “Sometimes the door just stays open because people are coming in and out so much,” Ricard said.
Ricard’s got a sort of cult following in the state -- he’s gotten to the point where he doesn’t even need to promote his business.
“I don’t need to advertise anymore,” Ricard said. “I got more business than I can handle.”
And the business is year-round, not just at Halloween. Believe it or not, throngs of brides-to-be can think of no better way to tie the knot than with a themed wedding, and they turn to Ricard to make it happen. Past notable themes include Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, Jailer and Prison Guard (an homage to the classic ball and chain), the 1950’s -- replete with Poodle Skirts and Greasers, and more Renaissance-themed weddings than Ricard would care to count.
At first he was skeptical of the whole idea, especially the weddings with more macabre themes.
“Is this what you really want?” Ricard asked a bride as he put a faux dead body behind a punch bowl. And they would always say yes, usually for similar reasons.
“'The average person goes to 50 weddings in their lifetime and they don’t remember any of them,’” Ricard said, quoting a bride. “’They’re going to remember this one.’”
The Connecticut Stage Company is also a fully-fledged theatre production resource for the entire state of Connecticut.
For about 75 productions each year, they build entire sets, provide and install lighting, portable stages, lasers, smoke machines, and costumes -- just to give the short list. His clients include community theaters, high schools, colleges, and a few professional troupes. He also does tons of theme parties. “People like to party and they want an excuse to party and dress up in a silly way,” Ricard said.
Don’t mistake that for a complaint, he’s very happy with that current party trend, especially around Halloween. As a man who’s been in the business of Halloween for 25 years, he’s had a front row seat to its evolution.
“Halloween back then isn’t what it is now, it’s popular now – it’s the second most popular holiday after Christmas. It is a time when adults hire kids to watch their kids so they can go out and act like kids,” Ricard said. “When you put on a costume and do something crazy or stupid, it’s not you doing it it’s that character; it’s a way to release your inhibitions.”
Owning his business has been quite a scream.
“I enjoy doing what I do, and the majority of the people are very happy and pleased. What makes it worth it is people come in, they rent a costume, they come back and say it was the best thing ever,” Ricard said. “Most of the time it’s like that, there are things that will make it rewarding.”