Zombies in the neighborhood, a pirate helping himself to the candy, a tiny princess with an attitude problem – there may be plenty of things to fear come Oct. 31, but being too old to celebrate Halloween isn’t one of them.
The evening that used to belong to grade school trick-or-treaters has become a multi-day celebration with something to tickle funny bones in skeletons of every age. Well on its way to becoming a major holiday, Halloween has also become big business. “This is our Christmas, actually,” says Kellie Rego, co-owner of Hip Wa Zee, Columbia’s local costume and vintage clothing shop. Her observation is echoed in statistics from the National Retail Federation, which reported that seven out of 10 Americans celebrated Halloween this past year, a record 170 million.
Though it’s not quite their Christmas, Halloween is one of the year’s big events for Rachelle Tomlin and her family. In mid-October they deck the halls of their Lake Katherine home with an array of orange and black decorations that range from spooky to silly. On All Hallow’s Eve, they dress in costumes and join family and friends for a night of Halloween traditions.
There’s no shortage of sources for costumes, decorations and party supplies in the area. National retail chain Halloween Express has made a business out of the growing demand, popping up at locations around town in time for the holiday. And Party City jumps into the act with a Halloween room.
Kailyn Taylor, a sales associate at Party City on Parklane, is experienced with the Halloween crush. She says the store starts ramping up in August, with crowds hitting their peak the week of Halloween. “It’s exciting,” she says. “It’s like the pre-party for the party.”
From their experiences, here are tricks to avoid the mayhem and to have more fun.
Tricks and Tips
1. Start early
People come into Hip Wa Zee as early as July, Kellie says, to start working on their costumes. The Harden Street store’s staff starts wearing their costumes mid-October.
By then, it’s best to be wrapping up your shopping, not starting it. “Don’t wait until the last week,” advised Party City’s Kailyn. “It’s definitely our busiest time of the year.” If you do wait, at least try to shop earlier in the day. “Come when we first open if you want to beat the lines,” she says, “because the store tends to be busiest after 2 p.m.”
2. Create some traditions
Rachelle is known among friends and family as a Halloween enthusiast. While she and Don, her husband, don’t host an elaborate Halloween party or create a haunted yard for trick-or-treaters, they do decorate their home for their own enjoyment and always take their children, Paris, Savannah and Donald, to her parents’ house each year. Along with her brother Brian Boyer’s family, plus friends Kathleen and Kirkman Finlay and their daughters, the Tomlins trick-or-treat in the same neighborhood Rachelle did when she was a girl. “It’s been neat for neighbors to see my children grow up,” she says, “and to create memories for my kids.”
3. Shop smart
Americans spend, per person, about $80 on decorations, costumes and candy each year, the National Retail Federation reports. If $320 for a family of four sounds like a lot, smart choices can keep costs down. Last year’s Snow White costume can become this year’s Zombie Snow White, for example, by adding makeup and fake blood. Rachelle says that smart shopping after Halloween has been a source of inexpensive things to add to her stash of decorations.
Kailyn recommends that you come in with a list, and she is amazed that so few shoppers do. “We have lots of things to put together a good party,” she says, including trick-or-treat bags, candy and costumes. The convenience of finding so much in one store, however, can leave some feeling overwhelmed. “We love questions,” Kailyn says and encourages shoppers to ask for help.
4. Wear a costume
Whether you’re one of those people who started shopping in July or you’re looking for something the afternoon of Oct. 31, Kellie says anyone can join in one of Halloween’s most beloved aspects. “We’ve got things at all levels,” she says, “for people who want to be elaborate or take it easy.”
That could mean devil horns with your suit for work or something racier or more complex for a late night party. Hip Wa Zee carries wigs, makeup, props, costumes, vintage clothing, tutus, masks and hats for purchase. The store also offers rentals that include full body mascot-style costumes.
Year after year, Kellie says Hip Wa Zee can count on demand for pirate garb. As for trends in 2013, she is seeing people doing more with LED lights and neon. She says the hot costume for babies has been the ladybug, with girls going for princess costumes and boys choosing superheroes.
The Tomlins look forward to dressing up and also have costumes for their dog. Pet costumes are a growing trend, and Halloween Express offers dozens of choices, including a Darth Vader look for your pup.
One of Rachelle’s favorite traditions is decorating the house with her children. Each year, they bring out bins full of giant spiders, jack-o-lanterns, talking skulls and flying witches. “There are no set rules. It’s a chance for the kids to place whatever they want wherever they want,” she says.
6. Get some spider webs
In the decoration department, Kailyn says, “The fake spider web stuff is really popular.” Donald, Rachelle’s son, agrees. “He likes the spider webs,” she says. “He put them on the lanterns out front last year.”
7. Have a candy strategy
The worst part of Halloween, Rachelle says, is the temptation of having so much candy around. While she decorates early and plans costumes in advance, candy is a last minute purchase. “I buy the candy the day before Halloween.”
After they trick or treat, the Tomlin children and their friends spread their candy out on the floor and organize it, something 30 percent of kids do, according to the National Confectioners Association. “We trade it for better stuff,” says Donald, age 9.
“Sometimes you’ve got to taste it to be sure you like it.”
Parents aren’t shy about sneaking treats from their kids’ bags, with nine out of 10 owning up to it in a NCA survey. Parents’ favorite treats to sneak are snack-sized candy bars. Their least favorite? Licorice.
8. Find a spooky soundtrack
The Tomlins listen to a Halloween compilation CD when they decorate, one that includes songs such as the themes from “The Addams Family” and “Ghostbusters.” Music-streaming site Pandora has created Halloween playlists, with categories for adults and children. In years past, the themed playlists have been the highest rated of their stations on Halloween night. User-generated Halloween playlists also are available on Spotify.
9. Know your audience
Children love a scary story, but no one wants to end the night in tears. Rachelle says getting the balance right can be tricky. The corner house in her parents’ neighborhood off Old Woodlands Road is so spooky Rachelle says, “Even I get scared.” Donald reassures his mother, saying “It’s okay. Mr. Finlay knows the chainsaw guy.” Luckily, there’s a payoff – a full-sized candy bar for each courageous trick-or-treater.
10. Take photos, and not just for Facebook
Rachelle’s family takes lots of photos, and Don has those pictures assembled in bound books each year. Similar photo books can be produced for as little as $9 through a variety of online services. Shutterfly offers a series of Halloween themed layouts for photo books.
Need some costume inspiration? Hip Wa Zee co-owner Kellie Rego says certain classics are in demand by Columbia shoppers every year. A survey published by the National Retailer Federation reflects the same, showing that the most popular costumes last year offered few surprises.
Top 5 for Adults: Witch, Vampire, Pirate, Batman, Zombie
Top 5 for Children: Princess, Batman, Spiderman, Witch, Disney Princess
Top 5 for Pets: Pumpkin, Devil, Hot Dog, Cat, Bee