Marilyn Johnson has only been running her sewing studio out of its new location for about three months, but a visitor could be forgiven for thinking she's been in the same space for years.

And they wouldn't be too far from the truth. Johnson's new studio, on Lafayette Avenue in Laurel, is just across the parking lot from where her old one had been for a decade.

Johnson, who has owned the Marilyn Johnson Sewing & Design Studio since 1998, needed to move to make room for her expanding business. She would have been fine, space-wise, if all she wanted to do was make alterations, a few custom designs and teach sewing lessons.

But the old studio was bursting at the seams with costumes, the bread and butter of Johnson's business.

"When I first moved in, it seemed like a great big, open space, and after 10 and a half years, I couldn't fit in another spool of thread," she said.

Johnson's success is what some have called an example for the Laurel business community, which officials and business leaders say is on the up and up.

"Generally speaking, over the past couple of years things slowed down a bit, but certainly in the last year economic development has increased, small business included," Laurel Public Information Officer Pete Piringer said. "There's a lot of excitement about what's going on."

Prince George's County Council member Mary Lehman said she was "thrilled" by the expansion of Johnson's studio. "Small businesses are a vital part Prince George's County's economy," she said, and added, "I'm especially glad to see a woman entrepreneur take such a major step to grow what was literally a homegrown business ... and be an example for other women looking to start or expand a business."

Costume details

Johnson's costume wardrobe has been steadily growing since she started her business. A walk through her "closet" is a walk through time and space, both historical and make-believe.

On the racks, there are Victorian gowns and lacy gloves, medieval tunics and Egyptian robes. She's got 20th-century vintage dresses and a blue-and-white "Sailor Moon" ensemble. And she has boxes and boxes of military uniforms and insignia.

But it's never enough.

"No costume closet is ever complete, because there's always the perfect dress in the wrong size for the actor or actress," Johnson said. "So you're always adding."

By Johnson's count, she has about 3,000 costumes stored in the studio. She's working on photographing and cataloging each one of them so that customers can easily find what they're looking for.

In addition to individual customers in search of a costume for the Renaissance Festival or a Halloween party, Johnson also gets a lot of orders from local theater companies, big and small. She said she tries to make prices accessible so that even small community groups can afford to get costumes made.

"Nothing drives me crazier than seeing bad costumes up on stage," she said.

Johnson has also worked with the White House to create costumes for a program that teaches children about U.S. history from the perspective of the children who have lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

She said making costumes is not as simple as drawing up a design that looks good.

"There's an amazing amount of research that goes into a lot of costume work," she said. "You have to understand characters, you have to know their age, their social status, their personalities. You have to know what year it is, what month it is, because then you have to dress them for the weather. … Fortunately, I'm a history buff."

That attention to detail extends past historical concerns, as well. One of Johnson's most memorable projects was designing a "Star Wars" bounty hunter costume for a local fan.