Justine Griffin/Sarasota Herald-Tribune—New chain stores and pop-up retailers have moved into Southwest Florida well before the start of October, as the push for holiday sales around Halloween begins even earlier this year.
Halloween costumes, candy and decorations hit the shelves of stores in Sarasota and Manatee counties at least a month before Oct. 31 — in some places even earlier. That signals the end of summer and the start of the end-of-the-year holiday shopping season.
More than one-third of 158 million consumers shopping for Halloween merchandise started buying before today, the National Retail Federation predicted.
But early shopping prognostications do not bode well for the “spooktacular” season.
In 2012, the average Halloween enthusiast spent around $80 on costumes, candy and other spooky merchandise. This year, shoppers have trimmed their budgets and will spend an estimated $75 each on holiday items.
Overall spending is expected to reach $6.9 billion, a 13 percent drop from 2012.
Halloween spending is important because it remains the second-biggest holiday for decorating and partying, second only to Christmas.
“Halloween will be far from a bust this year,” said Matthew Shay, the retail federation’s chief executive. “After a long summer, the arrival of fall will put millions of Americans in the spirit to partake in traditional and festive activities.”
The slump can be attributed to a flat back-to-school season, which “sets the tone” for the rest of the holiday season, retail analyst Jeff Green said.
“The disappointing back-to-school sales, coupled with the threat of this government shutdown, has really affected the mood,” Green said. “Even though consumers were dealing with a lot of extraneous things in 2012, the mood felt better than it does this year.”
About a fourth of U.S. consumers said that the state of the economy will impact their Halloween spending plans this year, according to NRF data.
Stores popping up
Despite the Halloween gloom, pop-up stores — temporary retail outlets that take over vacant space in shopping plazas — are opening in record numbers this year.
Spirit Halloween is opening 1,050 across the country this year, the greatest number of stores in the company’s 30-year history, said spokeswoman Lisa Barr. There are three in Sarasota and Manatee counties, one less than last year.
“It’s only Oct. 1. It’s hard to know what the season is going to be like,” Barr said. “The number of stores we operate have increased more than 5 percent over last year — that’s a good sign for us.”
Spirit Halloween was represented at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual ReCon convention in Las Vegas in May. It was the only retailer that uses a temporary pop-up format as its traditional store concept at the conference.
Spirit opened a temporary store in the former Circuit City space on University Parkway in a Benderson Development-owned plaza in 2012. This year, that space is under construction and set to open as a Nordstrom Rack in November.
A 13,000-square-foot Party City opened in that same plaza, the Shoppes at University Town Center, on Sept. 25. It was the second store the chain has opened in the region in a month. Another Party City opened in the former iParty space at 3670 Bee Ridge Road this month.
The iParty chain merged with Party City just in time for the Halloween season.
“The fact that a chain has opened two stores in one region will really affect how many pop-up stores come into the market,” Green said.
“There is still a lot of empty space for Halloween stores to pop up, but maybe there’s not that much in the Sarasota area.”
A third of shoppers will still browse the aisles of retail stores for costume inspiration.
Tom Ritchie, owner of the local costume and party supply chain, LTM Party, will rely on those shoppers.
Ritchie’s annual pop-up Halloween store opened in Port Charlotte on Sept. 12. His three others stores, including a costume rental boutique, have seen sales rise so far this year from 2012.
“Halloween is on a Thursday night this year, which is the second best day behind a weekend night,” Ritchie said.
“So parties will carry over into the weekend in November. We expect to see a lot of kids and adults celebrating this year.”