Cashing in on Halloween

Scream: Halloween sales are expected to grow 5.5 percent this year, more than during any other holiday.

October 16, 2004|By Kathleen Cullinan and Bob Erle | Kathleen Cullinan and Bob Erle,SUN STAFF

Debbie Barnes only meant to pick up toothpicks yesterday when she popped by Party City on York Road.

But she got no farther than the fog machine, tucked in among animated skeletons and bins of party-size candy bags, and had to stop. Barnes, 50, plans to greet children in her Rodgers Forge neighborhood on Halloween with a home done up in spider webs and spooky music.

"We have many, many, many little kids that come," Barnes said. But aside from the children, "I would do it for me."

More people like Barnes are going all out in decorating their homes for the season, helping to fuel what has become a $3.12 billion Halloween industry. This year, 61.8 percent of U.S. consumers that celebrate Halloween plan to buy decorations, according to the National Retail Federation.

Sales of those items are expected to grow 5.5 percent over last year, outpacing other holidays, including Christmas, said Pam Danziger, president of research firm Unity Marketing.

"It's clear that we're seeing an upward trajectory," Danziger said. "All you have to do is look around you."

Party City starts selling Halloween items in August.

"They don't buy in bulk in August," assistant manager Derek McGowan acknowledged.

By late October, however, some of the hottest items, such as the animated ghosts, are gone.

Izzy and George Rittenhouse, 8 and 6 respectively, found plenty of festive cups, plates and decorations to fill their mother's shopping cart in preparing for their Halloween party next weekend. Mary Rittenhouse took her children shopping yesterday for various Halloween items.

The kids have invited 22 friends to their Cockeysville home for an annual celebration, which will include a haunted hayride on their dad's tractor.

"I need a broom and a hat," Izzy announced, as George went for the candy.

After suffering a slump during the early 1980s, after a series of contaminated-candy scares, Halloween has been re-energized. Meanwhile, communities drained the holiday of its more sinister elements by organizing trick-or-treating walks through shopping malls and main streets.

And many local farms have capitalized on the renewed interest as well. Many report they now depend on Halloween as a source of income.

When Huber's Farm in Bradshaw saw a decline in revenue from its pick-your-own vegetables business during the early 1990s, it turned to Halloween entertainment to boost cash flow.

It began offering a haunted hayride in 1992, and the ride has grown every year since.

"It's been phenomenal for the past 10 years," said owner Ethel Huber.

This year's Halloween attractions include the hayride (including pirate ships, a castle facade and haunted woods), a jack-o-lantern corn maze for the younger children and pick-your-own pumpkins.

And Halloween is as big a holiday for adults as it is for kids. Some spend serious cash, buying merchandise that ranges from inexpensive glow-in-the-dark skeleton posters to $250 life-size mummies and ghouls.

"Halloween has gone from a kids' holiday to an adults' holiday," said Herb Reitman, an Illinois manufacturer of Halloween inflatables. His business has tripled since he opened two years ago.

At the annual Halloween Trade Show in March in Chicago, more than 1,000 manufacturers bought exhibition space.

Of course, the calendar is littered with holidays whose modern incarnations have been shaped by commercial forces. Would Mother's Day exist without Hallmark cards? What would Valentine's Day be without a trip to the florist?

Newsday, a Tribune Publishing newspaper, contributed to this article.

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