For over thirty years, Suzy Blesch of Evansville, Indiana has outfitted her customers in their costuming needs, made a team like family, and sustained the ups and downs of her local business, Nick Nackery. (If you're not sure you get the name, say Nick Nackery out loud and you suddenly will.)
Suzy was so passionate about local! Plus, when it comes to costumes, this woman has seen everything. Her Google Reviews are laden with stories of going the distance to delight folks, meet their dreams (and needs), and keep it on a dime.
Obviously, I interviewed Suzy. Here's how it went...
What exactly is Nick Nackery?
“It's a year-round costume shop that is definitively different than a costume shop, in that, we carry historical costumes for kids and adults, historical costume kits, crepe hair (wigs, beards, mustaches), masks, theatrical makeup, and the makeup used to paint children's faces for your neighborhood social, church social, school carnival.”
“There are eleven showrooms under one roof. We’ve got Santa suits, party supplies, joke items, and literal nonsense. And then, your earrings, bracelets, add-ons and accessories. Oh! And a whole line of weapons that go with the costumes (none of which are real, I should add). We’ve got life-size standup cutouts of celebrities, too.”
How did Nick Nackery get started?
“Thirty-three years ago, with one showroom. Eleven showrooms, three years later."
“I had a partner at the time. We had been self-employed – involved in real estate. The economy caved in the late 70s and we had started a family. So we decided we needed to do something under one roof. It started very simply.”
"Our first product in this building was bedding plants.”
Bedding plants. Like, for your yard?
“Yes. The second product we carried was fireworks. We headed clearly into costumes in the first few years. Thirty-three years later, it's evolved into what it is today.”
Where do you find your costumes?
“I work with virtually all of the core manufacturers in the USA. Many are made locally - in the States. I have one European supplier. What I get from them, now, are a line of wigs that I can sell in the $40-50 range that can be heat-styled.”
Wow, heat-styled. cool.
“Well, we have a lot of cosplay customers. The southwest corner of Indiana skirts Kentucky and Illinois -- that pocket provides me with customers who need costumes for anime conventions. The wigs are for them. It's amazing that all of those folks are enjoying them. They look good, feel good, and they’re washable! And heat-styleable.”
How big is your shop?
“7500 square feet.” That's like two and a half McDonald's of joke items, costumes, and, well... knick-knacks.
What is something you'd want Evansville to know about the Nick Nackery?
“Number one: we’re open year-round! After thirty-three years, customers still come in saying, 'We thought you’re only open in the fall!'”
“Number two. Yes, I have costumes. I get calls, ‘My son is doing this at school, daughter’s doing a birthday party with this theme, we’re going to a Murder Mystery themed dinner -- do you have this costume?’”
“It takes a double inventory to do costuming year round.”
What does that mean?
“Well, for the sake of example, there's a lot of 50s events. Sock hops and this. Old car shows and a sock hop at the end...One Night of the 50s... this or that. It takes a lot of poodle skirts, poodle socks, pink lady jackets, and saddle shoes to do that. But it would be unusual to have someone dress up as a 50s person for Halloween, in my understanding. In my store, it would be."
“So, here, those items are always available... but not what people move toward for Halloween. I tell my staff, ‘This [50s attire] is not here for Halloween; it's for ALL spring and summer whenever these car shows take place. It takes a LOT of poodle skirts to get through spring."
“Today, someone came in the store for a Gatsby event. Yesterday, a 70s event so they needed disco. I do the decades: the 20s, a little from the 40s – not a lot there, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s; but those are themed parties. They're not Halloween. Halloween's going to be Black Panther, Spider-Man, Batman, your witch, and your sorceress. Halloween’s going to be all that. Halloween’s not a hippie or disco person. So when I say I’m a costume shop and I carry costumes year-round -- I mean it, literally, it’s a double inventory."
You’ve built quite the costuming machine!
“Not at all do I want to pat myself on the back, because -- what I’ve done is, I’ve followed the lead of my customers. So it’s not that I’m the brightest crayon in the box. I work with my customers. I'm a hands-on owner. I reach out to my customers to know what their needs and desires are, and I watch and observe their buying trends...so, you know, they've led, I’ve followed and," she pauses, 'We’re here.'"
Who have people dressed up as from your business? Any best and worst-case scenarios come to mind?
“Not even answerable! Too many stories!”
“One that was funny that may be inappropriate, uh... ” she states matter of factly, “remote control fart machines are pretty popular and have been for years! And years back, I had a family and their father was sort of known for his flatulence. When he passed away, they came in and bought one of those and put it in the casket. They pushed the button every time someone looked in.”
(As interview, I’m laughing, in shock. I didn't even say "I can't believe they did that," and she responds to my unstated "no... they didn't".)
“Well,” she confirms, “they did.”
“The experience I’ve had here, I couldn't even begin... I've had customers that are carrying a very heavy weight on their back and they come here to relax and chill and catch a laugh and distract them from their lives.”
What's next for you and Nick Nackery?
"Okay, what we’re building right now is an online division of Nick Nackery. We hope to have it up and running this year, so you’ll be able to shop with me!"
That’s spectacular. Are you running this on your own? You mentioned team – who is this team?
"In the fall of every year, I have the most amazing team. I think God just put them together and sent them because they’re awesome."
"They’re -- all different ages, all different backgrounds, I’m sure all different ideologies. Different politics, all of this kind of thing, and I have a core group of ten to twelve people, which is not enough to pull off this job. A lot of them have day jobs and they work with me, around all of the other things they do in their lives.”
Her tone becomes a bit bewildered, so thankful.
“Some of them take vacation to work with me! They come in, my oldest people in my core group, I want to say this will be year eighteen or nineteen for those who’ve been with me the longest. This is year four for my newest core person – but they come in and they just – do everything.”
Do they confide in you about that?
"Yeah. And I have customers who came in as a child, who are bringing their children in."
"You asked about historic people – I have had Harriet Tubman, ladies from the Colonial Era, Paul Revere, George Washington, and Christopher Columbus. I have Native Americans and pioneers. I have both sides of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, and just colonial costumes."
"Inflatable costumes to now include the now famous inflatable dinosaur costume. Anybody that's anybody is on my wall somewhere here. And if not, I'm always willing to special order or find it for people. Help them find it."
What do you love about Evansville?
"Geographically, you can get almost anywhere you're going in twenty mins or less. It’s small enough to be very convenient. we have one Ivy Tech – community college, two universities – I believe that's awesome. I believe we'll open an extension of another university that will provide a medical school less than a mile from my store."
"It’s metropolitan, about 150,000, not gigantic but about as Midwest as you can get, I suppose. It's small enough where people know people, people feel closer knit? I don’t know. I‘ve never gone anywhere where I didn’t feel like people are nice; people are nice here."
"Evansville is growing - a lot of activities goin’ on. We have a lot of theatre goin’ on around here. The students in the city, I think that helps us to grow."
The End. Until your kid has a school project.
Call Nick Nackery: "Do you have a costume for that?"
Because Suzy is going to say, "Yes."