By Ryan Wynne
The air is crisp and the apples are sweet. For lovers of tricks, treats, ghosts, goblins and, as of late, scantily-clad nurses, that means one thing: Halloween.
Some Halloween enthusiasts will spare no expense on costumes, candy and carving kits, and those are the folks who have helped turn a no-gift holiday into a bit of a money-maker for businesses.
This year, Halloween spending will likely fill coffers more than last – it is expected to reach nearly $5.8 billion nationwide, according to National Retail Federation (NRF) 2010 consumer intentions survey results. U.S. consumers will spend an average of $66.54 on Halloween items, which is up from last year’s $56.31, according to the survey.
While $5.8 billion is a whole lot of money, Halloween is not even close to being one of the highest-grossing holidays. But it’s definitely important for businesses, said Kathy Grannis, spokesperson for the NRF.
“It’s a nice boost to a typically transitional month,” Grannis said, explaining that summer sales are over at that point and winter holiday sales haven’t begun.
Spooky sales boost business
For Value Village in Bellingham, October is anything but transitional, though. As Halloween grows closer, business at the store grows, too, said Allison Hughes, retail sales manager. She said sales at the store double toward the end of October.
“Halloween is our busiest season,” Hughes said. “It’s basically our Christmas.”
Fred Meyer stores also see an uptick in costume sales right before Halloween, according to spokesperson Melinda Merrill. She said the majority of sales for Halloween costumes and decorations come three to five days before All Hallows Eve.
The 130 Fred Meyer stores sell a whole lot of pumpkins, too. For instance, Merrill said, in 2008 the stores sold 300,000 pumpkins, which is about 126 truck loads.
Fred Meyer’s No. 1 Halloween seller?
“The candy business is enormous,” Merrill said. “The candy is the biggest.”
Merrill said Fred Meyer sells approximately 2.5 million pounds of candy during the Halloween season. Oct. 31 is by far the biggest Halloween candy sales day for the stores, but not all sweet-toothed customers are waiting until the last minute to buy sinfully-sugary treats. Merrill said about one-third of customers end up buying a second round of candy because they eat the first.
All of these sales add up to Halloween being a big event for Fred Meyer, albeit not as much as winter holidays and back-to-school shopping, Merrill said.
“It’s huge for us,” Merrill said. “It absolutely gets people into the store. Its a huge part of our business.”
Halloween is also no doubt important for the locally-owned costume and accessories store SpookShop, but owners Laurel and James Burke aren’t as reliant on their physical store as they used to be. They turned their once-a-year seasonal shop into a year-round business in 2000 with the help of the Internet.
At this point the online business is more lucrative and Laurel said, a lot of people think they’re crazy for putting so much effort into the physical store. She said it’s worth it, not monetarily, but for the satisfaction.
“It’s just fun,” Laurel said. “People shopping for Halloween want to be there and they really enjoy it.”
Not only is it fun, but Halloween sales also acquaint shoppers with the SpookShop’s year-round business.
Halloween boosts more than Halloween sales
And for general goods stores, such as Fred Meyer, Halloween sales can help in a similar way.
“Halloween gives retailers the chance to introduce their winter holiday merchandise to customers,” said Grannis from the NRF.
Merrill said it’s hard to say whether Halloween exposes customers to Fred Meyer’s winter holiday goods, but it definitely brings people to the store.
Dorie Belisle, on the other hand, said she definitely notices how Halloween crowds affect overall sales at her Lynden farm BelleWood Acres.
“During Halloween, everyone is looking for pumpkins,” said Belisle, who shares the farm’s ownership with her husband, John.
Pumpkins may start out as the main attraction for customers, but once there, they often stay for the full BelleWood Acres experience, and at harvest time the farm is in full swing. What is a four-employee operation most of the year grows to a 45-to-50 employee operation autumn through Christmas.
With the help of the Belisles, those employees help to fill the farm store with 16 varieties of apples, apple cider, peanut butter, corn stalks and gourds, among other things. The store is also stocked with potential Christmas presents from a variety of local producers.
Folks who may have initially just wanted a pumpkin usually end up taking a little more of the farm home with them, Belisle said, and those on-farm sales and community support helped boost BelleWood Acres’ sales last year, when sales and prices at grocery stores were down.
Like SpookShop owner Burke, though, Belisle said it’s also about the experience of sharing with the public.
“One of the neatest things for us is to see people sitting on our back porch enjoying the farm and enjoying each other,” Belisle said. “You spend the whole year growing, and when you get to harvest, it’s a reward for the work you have put in the past nine months. It’s a real celebration.”
Halloween in a recession
Asked whether the U.S. economy would affect their Halloween plans, nearly 70 percent of respondents to the NRF 2010 consumer survey answered no. And, while Halloween sales may have been down nationwide last year, a lot of local businesses said they didn’t notice. In fact, some said they saw continued growth.
Merrill, from Fred Meyer, said some sales have declined at the stores, but not seasonal shopping.
“It has remained strong through the recession,” Merrill said.
Value Village’s Halloween sales have continued growing each year and so have the SpookShop’s.
A perfect explanation for the growth is hard to come by, but a couple of factors are definitely helping stave off drops in sales.
According to both Grannis, from the NRF, and SpookShop owner Burke, there is a growing trend among adults to get dressed up (or possibly drastically dressed down) for Halloween. Just under half of the 35- to 44-year-olds surveyed by the NRF said they would wear a costume this year.
“Halloween is more and more an adult holiday,” Burke said.
Another possible money maker: 11.5 percent of respondents said they would put their pets in costumes this year. Now that’s a Halloween monster that just might bite.