A homeowner has gotten into the Halloween spirit, Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020, in Washington, with giant human and dinosaur skeleton decorations. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
October 27, 2020
For those who value the spooky season, figuring out how to celebrate this year presents a real challenge.
Most parades and large events are canceled, and some cities are encouraging residents to find alternatives to trick-or-treating or costume parties such as virtual gatherings or one-way candy pick-ups, where goodie bags are left at the end of a drive-way or yard.
What this means for the seasonal economy that crops up around Halloween each year won't be completely clear until the end of the month, but so far 2020 has been a mixed bag for the costume and decoration shops that make their bones each October.
"It's a weird season," said Mike Dugan, assistant manager at Costume Cabaret, an independent costume shop in northern Delaware. "The flow of people is off and on. Sales are down."
A Halloween display in Minneapolis receives the first measurable snow of the season as a storm arrived over much of Minnesota Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Dressing Up Homes for Halloween
Sales are up in one important area, however. In place of costumes and expensive inflatables, customers are buying more cheap Halloween decor to give their homes a seasonal flourish.
"They seem to be buying a lot of small decor-type stuff to dress up their homes and yards," Dugan said. "The big stuff isn't selling."
Top-sellers include the bread-and-butter of Halloween decorations: bundles of fake spiderwebs, simple props such as zombie hands that can be planted in the dirt, and cheap hang-up skeletons and witches for tree branches and porches.
This isn't just the case in suburban Delaware, where lawn decorations are a pastime, but in downtown Manhattan as well.
Halloween candy and decorations are displayed at a store, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, in Freeport, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
"Halloween Is Definitely On"
"It's certainly not the Halloween that we know, but Halloween is definitely on," said Jodi Lewis, manager and buyer at Halloween Adventure Shop near Union Square. "All of our locals are in. People are decorating more than they even normally would."
Data from the National Retail Federation (NRF) last month bears this out. Spending has dropped slightly on candy for trick-or-treating, costumes, party supplies, and haunted attractions, but risen for home decorations, pumpkin carving, and pet costumes.
The picture this paints of a Halloween night spent carving a pumpkin with a costumed cat or dog, in a house replete with spooky decor, might sound rather pleasant for those sticking to quarantine, but some still plan to hold socially-distanced gatherings or take their kids trick-or-treating.
"Everybody I've talked to is celebrating and going out in whatever capacity that makes them feel safe, whether they're just going in their apartment building or having their friends over or doing it amongst themselves, but nobody is telling their child that Halloween's canceled," Lewis said.
A dog named Punky, dressed in a spider costume, waits to compete during the annual Halloween dog costume contest at the Coral Gables Museum, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019, in Coral Gables, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
Serious About Spooky Spending
These more gung-ho Halloween-heads are keeping businesses such as Costume Cabaret afloat.
"The people who come in are here to buy," Dugan said. "They're not here to look around or waste time. We're getting less browsers now, because people are social distancing. We don't have the impulse buys like we used to."
Fortunately for Halloween peddlers in general, they didn't enter the COVID downturn in a place of weakness.
Total spending in the Halloween category has more than doubled from $3.3 billion in 2005 to $8.8 billion in 2019, according to the NRF.
This year spending is expected to drop down to $8 billion, but for those who are participating in holiday the average per person spending is expected to hit $92.12 this year compared with $86.27 in 2019.
"It's been getting better and better," Lewis said. "Our pet section is three times the size. I think a lot of it has to do with Instagram, Facebook. They want to post their pictures, so they're dressing up even if they're not going out. They're dressing up their dog, they're dressing up their kid."
As for this year, the last week alone already brought in a surprising number of customers.
"Two months ago, I was really worried, and now I see hope," she said.