Mike Brotman, owner of The Magic Planet in Thousand Oaks, has scoured the country for the thousands of high-end costumes that fill his store.
Finding treasures like handmade masks from New Orleans and “Star Wars” suits for mysterious Darth Vaders is the best part of his job, said Brotman, a Westlake Village resident.
When he’s not traveling to fill his store, Brotman, 49, is poring over costume catalogues. “It’s like an obsession,” he said.
After his business partner, Ken Gross, died in 1989, Brotman became the sole owner of the Magic Store’s five locations. He shuttered them all except for the store in T.O., which he renamed The Magic Planet on April 1, 1990.
In 21 years, he’s missed two days of work. “I love coming to what I created,” Brotman said.
The store’s meticulously organized collection of high-quality costumes and accessories, including custom-made pieces for fringe-wearing flappers and whimsical woodland fairies, attest to his attention to detail.
“Our customers know when they walk in that it’s different. People are amazed it’s not a schlocky costume store. Nothing is on the floor, and wigs are combed,” he said.
The Magic Planet also carries hard-to-find accessories. “We specialize in medieval helmets made of real metal, movie prop-type swords, guns and leather holsters,” Brotman said.
High-end capes and glam-rock boots come with higher prices.
A pirate coat sells for $130. Batman and Darth Vader suits cost $1,000 and $1,200, respectively. Less expensive costumes retail for $39.95, while prices for wigs and top hats start at $20.
Customers are willing to pay the price for outfits that will make them look good, Brotman said.
“They say, ‘I don’t want to look cheesy or stupid.’ Someone going to a corporate party wants to impress without looking foolish.”
On most weekends, adults arrive looking for something to wear to ’70s and ’50s theme parties, while kids search for the historical wardrobes of Abraham Lincoln, Paul Revere and Helen Keller for school assignments.
The weeks before Halloween, of course, are the busiest, and the staff of two expands to 12 employees. “We don’t look like we’ve been hit hard at the end of Halloween because we’re so fully stocked,” he said.
As a child growing up in Encino, Brotman performed magic tricks, then sold the used tricks to neighborhood kids.
“I had a vision when I was 5. I knew I’d be in business. I had a knack for selling,” he said.
The young Brotman was particularly drawn to small stores, preferring independent toy stores over Toys “R” Us.
At 16, he dropped out of high school and Gross hired him parttime to sweep floors. “He was a hard-core New Yorker. I hit it off with him,” Brotman said. “Ken Gross was a second father to me. He really didn’t have any family.”
Gross’ early stores sold magic tricks, jokes and low-end costumes.
“He was ahead of his time in terms of turning a costume store into a nicer place to go, (but) he was born in the late 1920s and didn’t want the look of fancy (costumes).”
Brotman eventually moved up at work and by age 24 had invested enough money in the chain of magic stores to become Gross’ partner. It was Brotman’s idea to introducenicercostumes. Three years later, he opened The Magic Planet.
Employee Tony Redburn, who’s worked at The Magic Planet since 2000, when he was 14, said his boss’ work ethic drives the business.
“He’s always looking for the newest, hottest, bigger, better thing,” said Redburn, a world champion gun spinner who also works as a Michael Jackson impersonator.
“The way the store is set up is pleasing to the eye,” he added. “Things are picked through in other stores.”
Brotman said the secret to his success is simply doing what he loves.
“I get a kick out of finding cool stuff and seeing people enjoy what they’re buying. It still gets me going after all these years. It makes all the hard work pay off.”