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Published: Tuesday, 10/3/2006

Retailers anything but scared at Halloween sales prospects

BY GARY T. PAKULSKI
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Halloween is second to Christmas as the holiday for decorating of yards and homes. Halloween is second to Christmas as the holiday for decorating of yards and homes.
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President Bush's advisers may be haunted by ghastly poll ratings this Halloween, but Bush masks are not in great demand, according to a Toledo costume store executive.

"It's not a huge seller," said Gregg Kerns, president of Costume Holiday House stores in Toledo, Fremont, and Columbus - not like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton during their presidencies.

Still, retailers who sell costumes, candy, and other Halloween merchandise are looking for a big payday in their trick-or-treat bags this year.

Americans plan to spend nearly $5 billion on the holiday, including lawn ornaments, candy, and costumes, according to the National Retail Federation.

Spending will average $59.06 a person, up 22 percent from $48.48 last year, according to a Sept. 6-13 survey of 8,000 Americans conducted for the retailers' group.

Julie Kime selects from the display of ninja costumes at Halloween USA in the Southland Shopping Center in Toledo. Julie Kime selects from the display of ninja costumes at Halloween USA in the Southland Shopping Center in Toledo.
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"It's become more than just a children's holiday," said Kathy Grannis, a spokesman for the federation. "It's not a gift-giving holiday. So it's not the most lucrative for retailers. But people enjoy themselves."

Halloween ranks sixth behind Christmas, Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day, and Father's Day in overall spending, the federation reported. But the holiday lags only Christmas in motivating Americans to deck the halls (in this case, with arrangements of spiders and other un-holly-like decorations).

At Halloween USA in Sylvania, "sales are definitely up from last year," said Shawn Nolan, the manager.

Part of the reason is that the seasonal store, which is operated at Halloween by Gags & Games Inc., of Livonia, Mich., moved this year to a better site on Monroe Street, he said.

The pirate theme is popular in costumes. Inspired by Dead Man's Chest, the latest in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, shoppers are snapping up anything related to the movie and its offbeat Captain Jack.

Other popular merchandise includes sophisticated motion-activated animatronic ghouls like Freddy Krueger.

Thanks to the microprocessor revolution, families can bring into their living rooms for $250 or less talking, nearly life-size characters that in the 1970s could be found only at amusement parks.

"The people who are buying them are the people who are really into Halloween," said Mr. Nolan. "It's sometimes moms and dads with families, but sometimes not. They're people who just love to decorate their homes for Halloween."

Some customers are laying out hundreds of dollars for smoke machines, headstones, and trunkloads of merchandise to create mock cemeteries and other party themes, he added.

Among merchandise apparently selling less briskly this year are Batman costumes for children, Mr. Nolan said.

"Halloween has become an even bigger event each year," added Carol Hively, a spokesman for Walgreens, which operates more than a dozen stores in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

Lawn ornaments are popular this year, she said. "Things that move or make a noise; skeletons, talking tombstones. Things to make the house scary when trick-or-treaters come up."

In the candy section at The Andersons, Maumee, traditional items like candy corn are popular. "We're ahead of last year overall," said Kelly Tutak, assistant manager. She was unsure about the size of the increase.

At a Halloween USA store in Southland Shopping Center, business is typically slow until October. In keeping with past years, "there were big lines Sunday," according to a clerk.

Mr. Kerns, of the Costume Holiday House chain, estimated that Halloween sales are up 10 to 15 percent from 2005's so far this year.

"Maybe it's because gas prices are coming down," he speculated.

For young girls, princess costumes are popular. For boys, it's superheroes.

Although some in the industry had predicted that adults would snap up Superman costumes as a result of the release this year of Superman Returns, that hasn't happened.

The pirate theme has been so successful that Costume Holiday House created a new Web site, Coolpiratecostumes.com.

"We had to just reorder our pirate stuff," Mr. Kerns said.

Contact Gary Pakulski at:

gpakulski@theblade.com

or 419-724-6082.



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