Sunday, October 26, 2003

Halloween sales rise from the dead


Economic rebound, global stability fuel numbers

By Randy Tucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

With Halloween less than a week away, retailers are scaring up monstrous sales as costumes, candy and party decorations fly off their shelves faster than a witch's broom.

Greater Cincinnati businesses that cater to Halloween revelers have reported a dramatic boom in spending, spurred by the growing popularity of adult parties that have made the sort-of holiday one of the biggest party days of the year.

And since Halloween falls on a Friday this year, there's bound to be a surge in fright-filled celebrating that could make Halloween 2003 the most successful in several years.

"Our Halloween sales are up tremendously this year," said Aubrea Kennedy, who buys party goods and all-things Halloween for the Party Source in Bellevue. "It (Halloween merchandise) started selling right after I put it out the day after Labor Day, and I noticed a significant jump last week."

Kennedy said she anticipated a busy Halloween when she placed her initial order for decorations and party favors last March. She said she ordered about 10 percent more merchandise than she ordered for Halloween last year.

But those supplies have already been exhausted.

"I usually order once, and that's enough to last the whole season,'' Kennedy said. "This year, I've already had to reorder three or four times."

Last year, the ghoulish images of a volatile stock market, a lingering recession and a possible war with Iraq led to zombie-like consumer spending.

This year, the geopolitical climate is a little less scary and the economy is beginning to rebound from the general economic malaise that has held consumer spending in a trance.

According to the National Retail Federation's 2003 Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, consumers will spend an average of $41.77 on Halloween this year, generating $5 billion to $7 billion in sales and making it the second-biggest holiday, in terms of dollars spent, behind Christmas.

Much of that spending will come from young adults ages 18 to 24, more than half of whom plan to celebrate Halloween by dressing in costume and throwing or attending a party, the survey found.

"With so many activities and celebrations, from adult costume parties to traditional pumpkin carving, it's easy to see that Halloween is not just for kids anymore,'' said Phil Rist, a spokesman for BIGresearch, which conducted the Halloween survey for the NRF - the nation's largest retail trade group.

North College Hill resident Janie Wright, 25, said she's ready to "let her hair down" and let "her inner ghosts and goblins out of the bag" after dealing with the political and economic uncertainties of the past two years.

"I've been dressing up and going to Halloween parties since I was in high school," said Wright, while searching for a costume at Cappel's costume shop in downtown Cincinnati. "But nobody threw a party after 9/11, at least nobody that I knew. I did find a party last year, but people were wearing Uncle Sam and Statute of Liberty costumes. That's not Halloween. That's depressing."

Over the past two years, patriotic costumes were in vogue as Americans tried to show solidarity in the face of the terrorist attacks and looming war with Iraq.

But this year, it seems, consumers are seeking an emotional release from the tragic circumstances surrounding the past two holidays, said Alice Andolina, owner of the Costume Castle in Loveland.

"Oh my God, I am so busy," Andolina said, as she answered questions from a customer. "It seems like every day now I have a store full of people wanting to get dressed up for a party."

Unlike last year, hot sellers include traditional gory costumes and characters from popular movies, including Pirates of the Caribbean and Matrix Reloaded, Andolina said.

"All the guys want to look like the Johnny Depp character from Pirates of the Caribbean, and all the girls want to look like Trinity from Matrix," she said.

Andolina said demand is so big that she has already tripled her Internet sales from last year at costumecastle.com.

"The economy seems to be improving, and people aren't afraid to spend like they were last year,'' she said. "This is going to be a big Halloween for us."

JoAnn James, owner of A Taste of Class catering business in Cheviot, is equally optimistic.

"Catering Halloween parties varies from year to year, based on what's going on in the economy and the world," she said. "Right after 9/11, we didn't do anything. But people are really into Halloween this year. We've already got six parties lined up, and people are really going all out with the food and decorations."

E-mail rtucker@enquirer.com



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