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It's a little too early yet to have an accurate forecast for the weather on Halloween night, when tens of thousands of tiny superheroes and princesses will tread through the twilight to extort a collection of sugary treats from friends and strangers alike. But analysts already know that a combination of worldly influences is conspiring to drive up the cost for those celebrating the annual ritual.
Crop damage this year has resulted in price increases for sugar, peanut butter, and pumpkins -- three of the bedrock staples of what has become one of the retail industry's most financially important holiday seasons.
Spending on Halloween has also climbed for decorations and greeting cards as consumers embrace the centuries-old harvest festival.
"Halloween is usually a good indicator of how people are viewing the economy and what they are willing to spend in decorating their homes and entertaining their guests," said Frank Guglielmi, a spokesman for Meijer, which has several stores throughout metro Toledo. "Industry-wide, Halloween is the second most commercially successful holiday, beat out only by Christmas."
Americans are expected to spend $6.9 billion on the spooky holiday this year, up 19 percent from last year, the National Retail Federation predicts. Almost $2 billion of that will be on decor -- up 15 percent from last year.
Since the trade group began keeping track in 2003, the amount the average person spends has risen 73 percent to $72.31.
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Just as Christmas has its hot toys, the Halloween industry is generating must-have items.
This year, it's the jumping spider. The red-eyed, battery-operated arachnid is just about impossible to find unless you go to eBay, where it's selling for almost twice its original $70 price.
Another popular prop is an $180 animated Regan from The Exorcist movie -- who spins her head and talks as the movie's theme song plays in the background .
Gena McCormick, general manager of the Halloween City store that opened Labor Day weekend in the old Circuit City location at Spring Meadows, said her store has had an "awesome" season so far, especially in holiday decorations.
"The average person spends about $30 on a costume, but the average sale of decorations was about $60," Ms. McCormick said. "I've had people spend $20 on decorations, and I've had people spend $600 on decorations. It just depends on what they're looking for. I've had a lot of people tell me that they do Halloween bigger than they do for Christmas, because they can have fun with it without the stress of Christmas."
Halloween is thought to have originated among the Celtic people in what is now the British Isles as they celebrated their New Year's Day, or All Saints' Day, on Nov. 1. A great fire festival called Samhein the day before, on All Hallows Eve, signaled the end of the harvest and the cold and dark onset of winter. During Samhein, hearth fires in homes were extinguished, then relit from communal bonfires, according to legend.
In marking All Hallows' Eve, when the doors between the world of the dead and the world of the living were opened, the Celts set food and drink out to sustain the spirits as they traveled from this world to the next.
There are few things as quintessentially Halloween as the candy that motivates children nationwide to travel their neighborhoods door-to-door begging for treats in virtually any weather.
The National Confectioners Association estimates that American consumers will spend $2.3 billion buying chocolate and nonchocolate treats this Halloween season, up about 1 percent from last year.
Sales of Halloween snacks have grown between 1 and 3 percent in most recent years, said Susan Whiteside, a spokesman for the confectioners group. "It makes a difference if Halloween falls on a weekend or during the week. If it's on the weekend, we typically see sales increase closer to the 3 percent range; if it's during the week, it's usually in the neighborhood of 1 percent."
The most popular snack item for trick-or-treaters remains the snack-sized versions of candy bars and other confections that are sold in larger forms every day, such as minisized Snickers bars or gummy treats, Ms. Whiteside said. More than 35 million pounds of another popular Halloween item, candy corn, will be made this year in much the same way that it was when it was introduced in the 1880s.
The nation's Halloween sweet tooth will be satiated again, as it is every year, despite higher raw material costs for confectioners, Ms. Whiteside said. "Input prices have been going up all year. Sugar's at an all-time high, and peanut butter is going up as well," she said.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates sugar-beet production was down 4 percent from the same period a year ago, citing "wet field conditions, along with disease and hail damage, in half of the sugarbeet growing areas as reasons for reduced production prospects."
Despite this, many retailers will use holiday candy items as a loss leader to lure customers in the door.
The Blade's news services contributed to this story.
Contact Larry P. Vellequette at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6091