Halloween is a real treat for retail
David Kaplan / Houston Chronicle
At American Apparel, a Lower Westheimer clothing store, Halloween is the busiest time of year – even busier than Christmas, said Lyna Phillips, a store manager.
Customers are buying tights, leotards and body suits to serve as the foundation for anything from a bunny to a Peter Pan to a zombie costume, she said.
More and more people – young adults especially – party around Halloween, and retailers of such costumes and decor report booming sales. Consumers are spending more than ever on the holiday, and the number of temporary “pop-up” stores offering Halloween items has grown dramatically.
“It’s the one holiday when everyone can get crazy and go all out,” explained Luis DeLeon, a 21-year-old medical assistant buying a costume at Halloween Express in Stafford. He is going as a Greek god this year.
In 2011, consumers will spend the most they ever have on Halloween, almost $7 billion, compared with $5.8 billion last year, according to the National Retail Federation. When the NRF first began tracking Halloween spending in 2003, the total was $3 billion.
“Halloween sales just go up and up and up,” said Juan Salazar, general manager of the six Houston-area Halloween Express pop-up stores. With nearly 300 stores nationally, the Owenton, Ky.-based franchise operation Halloween Express has been in Houston about eight years and is looking to expand, Salazar said.
The pop-up chain Spirit Halloween, meanwhile, has 15 locations in the Houston area, compared with eight last year. Based near Atlantic City, N.J., Spirit Halloween has 971 stores nationally. The company had only 49 stores in 1999, and “there is no end in sight” to expansion, said Spirit Halloween senior vice president Tony Detzi.
Halloween pop-up stores typically open right after Labor Day and close a few days after Halloween.
Temporary Halloween stores set up in both vacant big box and mall spaces, said Jeff Green, president of Jeff Green Partners, a retail feasibility consulting firm based in Phoenix. “The timing is perfect for landlords,” he said. Just when they break down a Halloween pop-up store, they can court a Christmas holiday pop-up retailer.
The current stressful and economically challenging times are ripe for the fantasy and escapism of Halloween, said Kit Yarrow, a professor of business and psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco.
Facebook photos have ramped up the rewards of wearing costumes, Yarrow said: “I’ve talked to young adults in particular who are thinking about how their costume will look on Facebook.”
Despite the slowed economy, a consumer might still make an impulse buy on a Halloween costume to create a splash at a party, said Scott Shillings, president of Riverway Retail, a Houston retail tenant representative.
At Arne’s Texas Size Party Store, a 60-year-old operation in the Heights area, sales of Halloween decor and costumes rise each year, said operations manager Jovita Torres. “It seems like it’s becoming more of a holiday for adults,” she said, and people are spending more on their costumes.
The Halloween business has also increased at Frankle’s Costume, co-owner Terrie Frankle said. Frankle’s has grown from a 1,000-square-foot-space 62 years ago to a 40,000- square-foot store at 2801 Polk east of downtown.
Frankle’s sells and rents, and more customers are buying costumes, Frankle said: Buying rather than renting is like splurging a nice steak dinner, because “they’re only going to wear it once,” she said. Customers typically spend between $50 and $80.
Halloween is particularly big with young adults, said Harry Schuhmacher, editor and publisher of San Antonio-based Beer Business Daily. “They’re less staid and it doesn’t embarrass them to put on costumes and go out in public, unlike people from my generation,” said Schuhmacher, who is 45.
Coors Light was one of the first beer brands to embrace Halloween with its “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” cardboard cutouts in bars in the 1980s, he noted.
Walmart stores have expanded their Halloween merchandise inventory with more outdoor inflatables, decor and party supplies, said company spokeswoman Tara Raddohl.
At Target customers are buying lots of both do-it-yourself and glow-in-the-dark merchandise as well as masquerade-themed costumes with fur, feathers and glitter, said company spokeswoman Andrea McCauley.
Some retailers are putting on Halloween-themed events. Last Sunday, for example, customers brought their children dressed in Halloween costumes to CVS stores to receive free Halloween gift packs, noted company spokeswoman Erin Pensa.