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Master of Scaremonies
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The Booming Business of Halloween
By Moira Herbst
Thu Oct 26, 8:08 AM ET

It started innocently enough nine years ago, with a few carved pumpkins and orange lights. But more recently, Sean Healy, a 43-year-old public relations consultant from Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., has taken his passion for Halloween to a level some might call, well, scary. Healy, a father of five- and seven-year-old daughters, now has a full lawn display, including lights on a timer, a giant inflatable Frankenstein, and a graveyard populated with stray skeletons. And those who dare head down his walkway to trick-or-treat will also have to face foreboding sounds from a hidden stereo.

"My wife gets mad if the kids get frightened on the way," admits Healy with a hint of an addict's shame. "But I think they've got to walk the gauntlet and earn their candy -- that's Halloween to me!"

For millions of Americans like Healy, Halloween is now about much more than one night of doling out sweets to masked characters. With retailers aiming to satisfy every wicked wish, the day has grown into a season unto itself. And this year, consumers are showing that their appetites for celebrating are growing ever stronger, as they're expected to spend a record $4.96 billion on costumes, candy, and decor -- up 50% from last year, says the National Retail Federation.

How Much Cobweb Cash?

"Halloween is becoming more sophisticated as people start taking their celebrating seriously," says Kathy Grannis, a spokesperson for the National Retail Federation. "It's a fun, stress-free holiday that allows you to be as creative as you want to be."

The average American will spend nearly $60 to celebrate Halloween this year. Consumers spend the most on costumes, averaging about $22 a person, followed by decorations, candy, and greeting cards (see the BusinessWeek.com slide show on costumes.

Though costumes are the biggest-ticket items, the main driver of growth this year is in decor, says Philip Rist of BIGresearch, which conducted the Halloween survey for the National Retail Federation. In that area, consumers will spend over $15 a person on average -- up 27% over last year. And the fastest growth in celebrating is among young adults aged 18 to 24, with fully 85% of them taking part in festivities (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/26/06, "Party Hounds Gear Up for Halloween").

"About the Anonymity"

"Folks of every generation are saying, 'I want to play,'" says Rist. "And retailers have done a great job making merchandise available. They've really created this excitement."

The recent drop in gas prices may be one reason consumers are spending more on Halloween this year, says Rist. But a desire for some devious fun is also part of the appeal. "It's a chance to allow the kid in you to come alive," says Marion Conde, an attorney in Manhattan found choosing between a jester and 1950s waitress costume on a trip to the city's year-round mega-store Halloween Adventure. Conde reserved a table with colleagues at a nightclub for the night. "It's also about the anonymity -- you can be a different person for a night and return to regular life the next day."

Seeking the full-on Halloween experience, about 17% of Americans will hit a haunted house this year. In New York City, which every year hosts a large-scale parade, theater company Les Freres Corbusier is courting the artist-intellectual thrill seeker with Hell House, in which actors terrorize guests with graphic politically themed scenes. "Every night, at least one person faints," says Aaron Lemon-Strauss, producer of Hell House. "But the response has been fantastic." Theme parks like Disney and Universal Orlando are offering more traditional shows and haunted houses.

The Vanishing Mirror

Of course, Halloween trends vary by region. The week before Halloween, there were plenty of bright orange sweaters and turtlenecks in a Manhattan K-Mart, where 35-year-old Ely Baez was picking up an undershirt for his gladiator costume. "The clothes are good for grandmas and suburban soccer moms, but not for the city," Baez said. He spent $59 on his costume, which he'll wear to a Halloween-themed club night with friends who are going as a Chippendale dancer and Medusa.

Back in suburbia, Healy is once again preparing for the big night. He has spent several hundred dollars again this year, but to keep peace in the family agreed to take down a trick mirror with a reflective skeleton which scared his five year-old daughter. "She hates it," Healy says. "But when she gets older, we'll start to scale it back up again."
 

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We were in a Spirit store lasyt night and it was packed.

Considering the markups they put on stuff - I understand the effort to set up a temporary holiday store now.

I was laughing at a middle aged mother there with her daughter. The mom was saying "I don't want to be the ax murderer again - I want to be the victim!" For whatever reason - her daughter was arguing the point.

Anyway - how much money do they make?

I spent my $40 on two jugs of fog juice.

I know, I know. I'm a rookie.
 

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My daughter works at Halloween Adventure Super Store. One Saturday, I think 2 weeks ago, they took in $14,000. And the stores packed out everyday.
 

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I'm trying very hard to stay away from Walmart, because I hate them with a passion, but most the Halloween type stores are so far overpriced their not leaving much of an option.

An example...

The Halloween Outlet in Worcester Massachusetts has this very popular groundbreaker skeleton prop for $28.95 that Walmart has for $14.85. Comparing the exact same props, from the exact same companies, they were usually 50% - 100% more. Those Gemmy lifesize animated greaters that you see everywhere for around $100, where $199 there.
 

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incubus0 iwas there 2 i looked around ( wow thats nice) went home loged on to ebay and bought it for 1/3 of the price, have you notice the malls around here have those quick set up stores of halloween stuff with insane mall price
 

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The nice thing about the Halloween Outlet is that its open year round. I go there sometimes in the off season just to get my fix. I wonder how they manage to stay open all year.
Talk to a florist. They make enough on Valentine's day and Prom to pay all the bills and have a tidy profit for the year. The rest of the year is just 'gravy'. I wish more halloween stores stayed open all year. All we have to do is provide a need and someone will be here to take advantage of that.
 
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