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Published: Wednesday, 10/28/2009

Economy, weather terrorize local haunts

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

The soft economy and gloomy October weather are leaving the operators of area haunted attractions somewhat dispirited.

"The economy, of course, is affecting a lot of people, a lot of situations. We're blessed somewhat because we have an established repeat business," said Bob Turner, co-owner of the Haunted Hydro Dark Attraction Park in Fremont, one of Ohio's four oldest seasonal haunted attractions.

But the weather also has dampened the customer's enthusiasm for a night of fright, he said.

"We've had unreasonably seasonal lows. Every Friday, there's been major rain or the threat of continued rain into the later evening. That has been a major factor in attendance," Mr. Turner said.

Mark Roberts, owner of TerrorTown at the Lucas County Fairgrounds, said this year's apparent drop in revenues is likely to reverberate through the entire "haunt" industry.

Like other operators, he trimmed his budget this year for Halloween props, making do with or refurbishing existing materials.

Andy Johnson of Walbridge prepares his ax for a night of scares at TerrorTown, where the budget for such props has been cut. Andy Johnson of Walbridge prepares his ax for a night of scares at TerrorTown, where the budget for such props has been cut.
THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON Enlarge | Buy This Photo

"It'll be a bad trend ... we'll probably see the vendors have cut back too, having less to offer," he said. "It's going to trickle through everything and with less revenue from this year, people won't have as much to spend on things next year."

Bill Criscione, owner of Ghostly Manner Thrill Center in Sandusky, a year-round haunted house that goes all out in October, said 2009 is a bit scary financially.

"I think for most haunts this year, to do even what they did last year, they would be happy," he said.

Mr. Criscione is a board member of the International Association of Haunted Attractions, an industry trade group that represents about 4,000 attractions.

The problems facing northwest Ohio haunted attractions, he said, are being experienced elsewhere.

"Out East and in the South the outdoor haunts have been affected by the weather," he said. "They're used to that, but this fall has been a little bit cooler and wetter than even they expected."

The larger "megahaunts" in big cities have mostly reached their attendance peaks in past years. With the down economy, they're bound to see falling revenues this October, Mr. Criscione said.

Most operators, though, are holding the line on prices and many are offering discounts to generate attendance, he said.

Those at Haunted Hydro Dark in Fremont are spending more per capita.

But attendance at the attraction, which is in its 20th year, is expected to be down by about 15 percent this year, and that is despite an increase in advertising and other promotional appearances at sporting events, parades, and other public venues, Mr. Turner said.

TerrorTown anticipated a softer year, so it beefed up advertising, offered more discount coupons, and will have an Alice Cooper cover band this final weekend.

"Overall things are going pretty well but we're down in attendance somewhat with the way the economy is," Mr. Roberts said.

"This is very frustrating."

And the weather is worse.

"During the week, the weather's been beautiful. On the weekend, it pours," he said.

"Even if this last weekend's strong, it won't help. It was the earlier weekends when everybody got down. And once you're down, you're down for the year," he said.

At Ghostly Manner in Sandusky, Mr. Criscione said he had a strong summer, which made him think the fall would be good. But that hasn't happened.

"Our attendance numbers are up 10 percent, but our revenues are up only 5 percent," he said.

Customers are going to the attraction, but they aren't buying souvenirs or refreshments, he added.

The Haunted Halloween Train, which is actually the Bluebird excursion train operated by the Toledo, Lake Erie & Western Railway running out of the Waterville Train Depot, has seen its attendance drop this year.

"We're running a little bit less than we did last year. We've had to curtail some of our promotions because of our costs," said Bill Linebaugh, railway president.

To counter the reduced advertising and the expected drop in attendance, the railway began offering discounts for preregistration and for those in costume.

"We encourage people to wear costumes. They add to the ambiance and to the party effect," he said.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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