Halloween scares up business

'Friday the 31st' creates more revenues for nation's retailers

Friday, October 31, 2003

When Tony Greco started selling theatrical costumes 30 years ago, he didn't bother stocking cheap children's outfits and plastic masks, so he did very little Halloween business. Now the country's spookiest holiday accounts for 60 percent of his annual revenue -- and most of the customers are only children at heart.

Greco, owner of Lillian Costume Co. in Mineola, N.Y., is tapping into a growing trend of more elaborate Halloween celebrations. Halloween has evolved from being a one-day, children-only, trick-or-treat affair to a weeks-long occasion that includes adult costume parties, dress-up days in schools, witches on front lawns, trees bathed in orange lights, mall-sponsored events, haunted house attractions and parades. Magazines and catalogs feature pumpkin covers, and bats appear on soda cans. The days of cutting up a sheet and going out as a ghost have vaporized.

Many observers say this year's Halloween will be bigger than most because it falls on a Friday -- Target's promotional theme is "Friday the 31st" -- and parties will take place all weekend. The prime spot on the calendar means a 25 percent boost in Halloween-related revenues for retailers, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for The NPD Group of Port Washington, N.Y.

Halloween has become a high-profile holiday that is recognized by preschoolers through senior citizens, he noted, "and it's still a very American thing."

Analysts who study the commercialization of holidays are split on whether total spending will be up or down.

Estimated Halloween sales slipped for the past two years after Sept. 11, 2001, with people across the country nervous about sending children out alone and many didn't feel like partying. Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a Manhattan-based consulting firm that surveys consumers, said Halloween was making a comeback and he was predicting a 6 percent to 10 percent increase in sales of pumpkins, candy, decorations, costumes and the like.

Yet a survey conducted for the National Retail Federation could give merchants a scare: It indicates that the 56 percent of consumers planning to celebrate will spend $41.77 each, 5 percent less than last year, which was off slightly from 2001. The trade group believes the dropoff is coming out of decorations, because after years of getting in the Halloween spirit, revelers have enough china witches, plastic jack- o'-lanterns and dangling skeletons.

Still, Halloween is the second-largest holiday for decorating, after the Christmas-Hanukkah period. But because it isn't a gift-giving time, Halloween trails spending for the end-of-the-year occasions and falls short of average consumer financial outlays for Mother's Day, Father's Day and Valentine's Day, the retail federation says.


AP Photo

Dawn Martin watches as her husband, Clyde, sizes up a Fred Flintstone costume at Spirit Halloween Superstore in Broadview, Ill. Surveys show that more and more adults are celebrating Halloween with costume sales reaching higher percentages than in years past.