Business

Miami’s iconic ABC Costume Shop is closing. The owner blames skyrocketing rent.

The first time Gloria Estefan stepped onto “The Tonight Show,” she wore a form-hugging gold metallic dress designed to sparkle in the stage lights and open-toed platform heels evoking Carmen Miranda. The fashion genius behind her eye-catching entrance: Franco Carretti, owner of Miami’s ABC Costume Shop.

Those were better times. After 39 years of running ABC, Carretti is about to close his doors, another victim of Wynwood’s skyrocketing rents. Every last mermaid tail, medieval armor, feather headdress, sequined matador vest, animal-print caveman outfit, Wookie and starship uniform is being auctioned online; the sale ends at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Carretti purchased ABC Costume Shop in 1980 at its original location in Lemon City. He moved his business to the Design District in 1993 and set up shop for the last time at 575 NW 24th St. in Wynwood in 2004, before the area’s business boom.

But like some other small business owners in the neighborhood, Carretti can’t keep up with climbing land values. New storefronts, offices and condos are poised to set off yet another wave of gentrification in an area already transformed from its warehouse-district origins. Also slated to close this summer are The Electric Pickle, a 10-year-old nightclub that will hold its last dance June 30. And Give Good Works, a 20-year-old charitable distribution center and thrift store, is vacating its premises in September following the sale of its building. One of the owners, Heather Klinker, said she is hoping to crowd-fund a move to another location.

That’s no comfort to Carretti, 83, who bought the original ABC Costume Shop when he moved to Miami from Italy. For a former movie costume designer, the business was a perfect fit.

Despite his age, he had not planned to retire prior to the rent hike. “It’s my life. It’s the only thing I know how to do besides eating,” Carretti said.

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From left, Franco Carretti, 83, Debby Diers-Weisman, 62, and Carlos Cifuentes, 61, have worked at ABC Costume for 39, 37 and 31 years, respectively, as of June 7, 2019. Jennifer King jking@miamiherald.com

Carretti’s pieces have colored the landscape of some of the most iconic films and TV shows filmed in Miami over the past four decades, including “Bad Boys” and “Bad Boys II,” released in 1995 and 2003, respectively; “Magic City,” which premiered in 2012; and the “Miami Vice” pilot in 1984.

While Carretti won’t be keeping any of the costumes when he closes, there are a few he considers masterpieces. Among them is a ruffled Spanish gown made of cotton, nylon and lace designed for the Dallas Opera measuring 25 feet long and 15 feet wide; when the train was pulled up, it filled the entire stage behind it. Carretti said that the tail was so large and elaborate, it took two weeks to produce.

It was work that spoke for itself. Customers spread the story of ABC and came to Carretti again and again for their costumes. Among them was Disney, which commissioned him to create parade and cruise costumes. Francis Revolorio, a purchasing agent for Disney who has worked with Carretti for more than 20 years, said that she’s going to miss Carretti as a person and for his craftsmanship when his shop closes.

“It leaves a big gap for us. We relied on him for quite a few things,” she said. “We’re very sorry that he’s closing.”

Carretti also dressed Estefan for at least five years during her early career with Miami Sound Machine. Frank Amadeo, president of Estefan Enterprises, said in an email that Carretti created a “legendary” shop that Estefan’s team often worked with.

“He and the legacy he leaves behind in this city will be forever remembered,” Amadeo said about Carretti.

ABC has also been popular locally, with customers such as the Miami Lyric Opera. Founder Raffaele Cardone now has to order costumes from New Jersey, which is more expensive. He said there aren’t any quality costume providers in Miami anymore, since ABC is closing.

“It’s going to be a big loss for the theatrical and operatic community,” Cardone said.

Carretti didn’t want to close ABC or retire, but he said he could no longer afford to pay his lease. Carretti says his building ownerhas raised his rent twice before. The latest spike called for triple the previous monthly payment, which Carretti declined to disclose. According to property records, the owner is 1-4-7 Realty. Several calls for comment to its president, Jeffrey Cohen, were not returned.

For Carretti, the price was too high. He couldn’t locate another 10,000-square-foot space for a reasonable price. So he made a difficult decision: to close up shop.

“Everything is so expensive because Miami went crazy. Miami went bananas with the price,” he said. “You have to go, I don’t know, in the Everglades, probably, to find a location.”

But Carretti’s business fell on hard times long before this fatal blow.

Two decades ago, Carretti’s business relied primarily on costume rentals for Halloween and other special events where period costumes from “The Three Musketeers” were all the rage. Women seeking to channel “The Great Gatsby” came for feathered flapper dresses. And those who needed a trip to Bourbon Street could purchase colorful Mardi Gras outfits and matching headdresses. In those years before widespread internet use, lines outside his Design District location were so long he needed security.

E-commerce brought cheap, plentiful alternatives. Today’s customers simply go online. “They don’t care what it is,” Carretti said. “It’s junk.”

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Auctioneer Richard Deyo, 55, shows his favorite costume being sold during an auction to liquidate ABC Costume Shop’s inventory on June 7, 2019. Jennifer King jking@miamiherald.com

With his core business disrupted, Carretti started to rely more heavily on projects for commercials, TV and films. But he said many of the stylists in those industries have moved to places like Atlanta and New Orleans, where they get government incentives.

No matter how difficult the business became, Carretti said he never fired employees because of lack of work.

“They stay here, always,” he said. “Doing nothing — but with a check.”

But now, those employees will need to go elsewhere.

Some of them have been with Carretti for almost as long as he’s owned the business. Debby Diers-Weisman, 62, joined 37 years ago. When she took her son on his first outdoor visit, it was to the shop; years later, he returned for his first summer job. And when Diers-Weisman’s father died, her mother donated all of his clothes to the store. When she leaves, the only thing Diers-Weisman will take is the blazer her father wore every Christmas.

“We were always a different costume shop from the other ones,” she said. “We were always a professional shop, and this is where the stylists and designers and theater and promotions would come to so that we could help them with what they needed.”

Carretti will retire after he shuts the doors of ABC Costume Shop for the final time. But he said he hopes his employees remember him fondly.

“If the people, if once in a while they think about Franco, I hope they think with care,” he said.

A previous version of this article misspelled Debby Diers-Weisman’s name.

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