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Published: Monday, 10/4/2010

Local retailers' spirits up: Halloween sales are strong

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

"It's actually looking pretty good. Our sales have been good over the whole summer and our September is looking bigger than last year," said Gregg Kerns, owner of Costume Holiday House Inc., which operates stores in Toledo and Fremont.

"September was probably up 20 percent over last year, so people are going out and spending," he said.

Last year was downright frightening for Halloween sales, with consumers spending an average of $56.31 on costumes, candy, and decorations, according to the National Retail Federation.

But this season the retail federation said consumer spending will be up nearly 18 percent at $66.28 a person - or back to 2008 spending levels.

It's a welcome return for retailers and a strong indicator of consumer confidence, although it may have no impact on Christmas holiday spending.

"There's no real connection because typically, it's a nongift-giving holiday that only ranks eighth or ninth in holiday spending and is down near the bottom of the holiday list," Kathy Grannis, a retail federation spokesman, said.

"So it's not the best indicator of whether people are going to be willing to spend for the holidays, but it certainly helps [retailers]."

It is too soon to tell if reports of increased pre-Halloween spending are a sign that people are loosening their wallets altogether or just looking for a one-day respite from the troubled economy.

Although Halloween spending is expected to increase, a retail federation survey showed that 3 out of 10 consumers say the economy is affecting spending. That 30 percent said they will be buying less candy, putting up last year's decorations, or using last year's or a homemade costume.

Still, Bill Furtkevic, vice president of Party City Inc., a national chain that sells costumes and party supplies and has a store in Toledo, said his firm is more bullish this year than last.

"Absolutely without a doubt we believe it's going to be better this year than last year," he said. Helping drive sales is that Halloween falls on a Sunday, giving party-throwers a chance to celebrate on Friday and Saturday.

"And as with most holidays, a lot of the folks wait until the last minute to buy, so we're very optimistic about this year [based on early sales]," he said.

Sales also are strong at Meijer Inc. stores, including costume sales for young children, adults, and children in their middle-school years who are too old for Halloween but still like to dress up, spokesman Frank Guglielmi, said.

"We're pleased with it so far," he said.

Meijer, Mr. Guglielmi said, has a new Halloween category this year: upscale permanent outdoor decorations. "It's one of real bright spots. … Sales of those items are up pretty dramatically," he said.

Colette Burke, co-owner of Kostumes Ltd. in Holland, said she too is optimistic about this year compared to 2009.

"We're finding that we're starting to get a little busier earlier than we planned on," she said.

According to retail federation surveys, the most popular adult costumes this year will be witches, vampires, and pirates. The top three children's costumes will be princesses, Spider-Man, and witches.

Mr. Kerns said saleswise, zombie costumes and vampire costumes are extremely popular this year. So are wigs and items relating to pop star Lady Gaga.

"But the problem with Lady Gaga is that she changes her look so often it's very hard to keep up with her," he added.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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