In scary economic times, Halloween makes merchants smile

From $3.50 black-and-orange cupcakes to $45 Spartacus costumes, retailers make a bundle on Halloween – $2 billion on candy alone. For the economy, it's a bit of good news in scary times.

By , Staff writer

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    Boo! Children and adults shop for Halloween costumes in Springfield, Ill., Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010. The National Retail Federation expects Halloween spending to hover around $5.8 billion this year, up from $4.75 billion last year.
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Even this year, with the economy still hair-raising to many people, Halloween is tinged with green – as in cash.

In the days leading up to the scary day, the Wegmans grocery chain brings in extra candy, its bake shops turn out orange-colored cakes, and the produce department stocks up on decorative gourds and pumpkins.

On Friday night, for $20 per head, the Boston Ski and Sports Club hosted a party for 400, providing extra work for a local caterer.

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And, since the beginning of October, the Arasapha Farm in Glen Mills, Pa. has been hiring actors and actresses covered with fake gore to try to scare thousands of people every night paying $12 a head (no pun intended) to tremble their way through the Bates Motel, a Victorian “haunted house.”

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Yes, from an economic point of view, people are making money on fright.

From $3.50 cupcakes decorated with pumpkins and black cats to $45 Spartacus costumes, Americans will spend on average $66 for a little seasonal fun. This year the National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates all those costumes, packages of candy corn, and haunted hay rides will total $6 billion.

“It’s a wonderful way for retailers to supplement their sales,” says Scott Krugman, a vice president at the NRF in Washington.

Indeed, a trip to the local grocer or drug stores finds aisles loaded with bags of miniature candy bars, termed “snack size” by the manufacturers.

According to the National Confectioners Association, Halloween, with $2 billion in sales, is the biggest sales event for candy, outstripping Easter, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day.

“We’re optimistic it will be a good year,” says Susan Whiteside, a spokeswoman for the confectioners association. “We’ve seen sales increases on an annual basis even during the economic downturn.”

When they’re not munching sweets, a lot of people like to view the ghouls at the local haunted house. According to Hauntworld.com, Americans will spend $500 million to buy tickets to walk around Victorian mansions with creaky floors or visit an amusement park with a Halloween-themed event.

One of the beneficiaries of this fascination with spider webs and fake gore is Randy Bates, owner of Arasapha Farm, known at this time of year as the scary “Bates Motel.”

Yes, that Bates Motel, as in the movie “Psycho.”

Of course that scary lodging was in Hollywood. But, this time of year, visitors can travel to Mr. Bates’s farm, where for most of the year he grows hay and raises sheep and ringneck pheasants. But, starting on October 1, the animals take a back seat as he welcomes up to 7,000 people a night to his farm outside of Philadelphia.

The spook-seekers can go on a haunted hayride, try to find their way out of his corn maze where “someone or something” is watching, or tour the Victoria mansion, ranked the second scariest haunted house by Hauntworld.com.

“Traditional farmers are unable to make a good living with a large family,” says Mr. Bates. “The addition of Halloween and Christmas [for a hayride] pays the bills, pays the mortgage and keeps the kids in college.”

It’s the busiest time of year at Acme Costumes, in Garden City, Georgia. This year many people want to arrive at parties dressed as Spartacus, says Nancy Cox, owner of the store and the president of the National Costumers Association.

A Roman rental outfit can run about $45, says Ms. Cox, who adds that the final tab depends on whether a would-be gladiator wants to be clad in plastic or metal.

“You could spend $50 or $500,” she says.

On Friday afternoon, Ms. Cox was trying to be as helpful as possible. But, she was a little rushed.

“I’ve got a pretty big store and it’s packed with people,” she said.

IN PICTURES: Boo at the Zoo

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