2017-04-20 / Business News

Music man, merchant

Off-Broadway producer also owns WIC stores

Shawn Nightingale is truly a man for all seasons.

A successful Off-Broadway producer whose “Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man” recently stopped at the Kravis Center, this part-time resident of Jupiter also runs four stores around Palm Beach County called Family Matters. These stores work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, also called the WIC program. It provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income pregnant and postpartum women, as well as to infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk.

“I’ve had my WIC stores here for 25 years,” Mr. Nightingale said. “I opened my first one in South Miami, then another in Lantana. Subsequently, I opened 60 of them up and down the east coast. I’ve since sold all of those and still have four — in Delray Beach, Lantana, Greenacres and Mangonia Park.”

Shawn Nightingale (left) has produced many shows, including “An Evening with Whoopi Goldberg and Bruce Vilanch (at right)” and “Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man” (at top). 
COURTESY PHOTO Shawn Nightingale (left) has produced many shows, including “An Evening with Whoopi Goldberg and Bruce Vilanch (at right)” and “Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man” (at top). COURTESY PHOTO He said the program benefits more than just poor people.

“It’s not like food stamps,” he said. “You can make up to about $47,000 a year with three kids and still qualify. You can be a working parent who’s just having a hard time affording expensive baby formulas.”

Mr. Nightingale learned about the program 30 years ago from a relative who was using it in California. He took her to a market in Los Angeles, only to discover the program’s eligible food brands and restricted quantities did not match those offered in standard grocery stores there. She left the store without many of the necessary items she needed and felt embarrassed and stigmatized by the grocery clerk as well.

“I said there has to be a better way,” he said. “So I opened the first WIC store here in Florida, where we only carried the cereals, cheeses and formulas that were qualified by the WIC program. Women could come in and whatever they bought, they were buying the right thing and the right amount. Also, my employees — many of whom are or have been on the WIC program as well — are trained to help them maximize the benefits of the program. It was a tremendous success. It still is. Our customers walk away with everything they’re supposed to get.”

Mr. Nightingale is just as talented in producing shows as he is in helping needy families.

A Cape Cod native who grew up around theater in Provincetown, Mass., he has produced and worked with such famous names as Whoopi Goldberg, Joan Rivers, John Waters, David Sedaris, Bruce Vilanch and the Tony Awardwinning Elaine Stritch.

He also co-produced the Broadway musical “Side Show” and “Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man,” currently in its fourth year at the 777 Theatre in New York, is the longest running comedy in Off-Broadway history.

No topic is taboo in this romantic comedy, set in a university auditorium at a meet-the-authors event. Shy and studious moderator Robyn welcomes guest author Dan Anderson, who wrote the book “Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man.” With the help of a hunky stage assistant named Stefan, Dan aims to turn the presentation into an interactive seminar.

The play is based on the real-life book by Anderson and Maggie Berman and is for mature audiences.

“I’d say about 90 percent of our audience for ‘Sex Tips’ is women,” Mr. Nightingale laughed. “It’s a popular choice for bachelorette parties and as we tour the show around the country to cities like St. Paul, Denver, Des Moines and Milwaukee, we’re getting a lot of what I like to call women parties and girls’ nights out. But I must say if they bring their husbands, the men also find it very entertaining. The show is a bit risqué in places, but it’s all in good fun.”

Successful as his producing career has been, Mr. Nightingale said his Family Matters stores remain very close to his heart.

“Many times my clients have left our store and I’m in tears for them,” he said. “Instead of going to Publix, where they’d only walk away with about 50 percent of what they qualified for, now they’re walking away with 100 percent. And they’re buying from people with whom they feel comfortable talking about their problems. We relate to them on a face-to- face basis and try to help them in any way that we can. And that’s something you can’t put a price tag on.”

These stores don’t have their own websites, he said, but qualified customers can be directed to them by the clinics they visit for their WIC vouchers. ¦

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