Halloween moves out of the candy aisle, into big business

Halloween passed Monday night, leaving only hazy memories and unwanted candy corn for most celebrants, but for the retailers who specialize in selling the costumes and decorations, the holiday left something else: $3.3 billion in sales.


This unprecedented figure is part of a trend that has seen sales of Halloween merchandise more than triple since 1995, according to the National Retail Federation. Much of this growth is from adults, who have been putting aside the role of trick-or-treat chaperone and started spending serious money on elaborate costumes and decorations for themselves.


This year, 18 to 24-year-olds fueled the increase more than any other age group, and the average young-adult spent more than $50 on Halloween supplies, up 30 percent from the year before. Numbers like these have transformed Halloween from a single night of jack o’ lanterns and bite-sized candy into a major seasonal retailing event.


“This is my fourth year, and I’ve never seen it this crazy,” said Corina Fox, manager at the Spirit Halloween store in Lloyd Center. “We opened the last day of August, and it’s been like this ever since.”


Spirit Halloween, a subsidiary of Spencer Gifts, is the most successful Halloween store in the country, and on a weekday afternoon in late October the store was bustling. Teen-age clerks in orange T-shirts hurried to help customers lined up for the dressing rooms and at registers.


Fox estimated that 60 percent of her customers were adults shopping for themselves. There were a few people in the children’s section, but the entire rear half of the store was crowded with people picking out the adult-sized costumes for everything from a sexy maid, to a $169.99 pirate that Fox said was selling well.


Halloween Spirit occupied a wide storefront directly across from Nordstrom in the 47,000 square-foot space that once held a Toys R Us store, according to Vicki Morton, the Lloyd Center Specialty Leasing manager. In past years, Spirit Halloween stores have typically been placed in smaller malls, as freestanding concessions, or even at a location in the Jantzen Beach parking lot.


All of these adult costumes are hardly being purchased just for trick-or-treating, and indeed Halloween has evolved into one of the major party holidays for young adults. Portland State students Amelia Cates and Tom Rousculp said that Halloween was a weekend-long event this year. Rousculp participated in a “Zombie Holocaust,” a full-costume roving bicycle tour/zombie battle with multiple houses around Portland each hosting themed parties.


Entertainment retailers agree that Halloween lasted more than one night this year. Theme parks such as Universal Studios put on multi-million-dollar Halloween parties, and the events have been consistently sold out. Locally, the Scream at the Beach, which sold over 10,000 tickets last year, expanded to a huge three-attraction venue in the Rose Quarter this year.


Regardless of how Halloween is celebrated, this year’s record sales have made it clear that consumers have created a new niche, and retailers are lining up to fill the demand. While it will never rival the juggernaut retail potential of the winter holidays, Halloween sales have grown well beyond the realm of tricks and treats.