The vast multitudes of empty big-box stores, darkened malls, and vacant strip shopping centers that now litter the American landscape are being commandeered by a growing number of temporary Halloween superstores.
“We call them 30-day wonders,” said Debbie Lyn Owens, who owns a costume shop in Sunnyvale, California, and heads the National Costumers Association (NCA), which represents 600 locally owned costume stores.
Over the last few years, the number of temporary Halloween stores has exploded, Owens said. Most are operated by a handful of national companies, such as Halloween Express and Spirit Halloween, which has more than 300 outlets this year and plans to expand to 600 outlets within the next two years.
“The Halloween season for us is equivalent to Christmas for most other retailers. The profits made during this season allow us to pay our bills throughout the year,” said Joseph Wiorek, who, with his wife, owns Masquerade Maul in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
This year three temporary Halloween stores have opened near Masquerade Maul. One is just two blocks away. Wiorek said they have taken a significant bite out of sales.
“Originally the temporary stores were just opening up in areas that were not served by a full-time costume store, but that philosophy has changed and they are now targeting space close to full-time shops,” explained Wiorek.
The unprecedented volume of vacant retail space in the U.S. has provided plenty of idle retail outlets that can be leased for thirty to sixty days.
“These stores take from the community and give nothing back,” said Wiorek. Should Masquerade Maul close, that would not only mean lost year-round tax revenue and perhaps a chronically vacant storefront, but an end to the many donations and free costumes the store provides to local charities and theater groups.
“The school for deaf children we donate the use of a Santa suit for their Christmas party will have to go without, as will the children in area hospitals visited by volunteers, again outfitted with our best quality costumes,” explained Wiorek.
Wiorek is hoping to persuade the Crystal Lake City Council to adopt an ordinance that would prohibit a temporary store (defined as one open less than four months of the year) from locating within four miles of an existing year-round business of the same type.
Meanwhile, the NCA has created a buying group for its members that has worked with manufacturers to obtain volume discounts and to design special costumes that are only available at independent stores.