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William Burks sorts pumpkins at the Decatur-Morgan County Farmers Market on Tuesday as he prepares for Halloween.
Daily photo by John Godbey
William Burks sorts pumpkins at the Decatur-Morgan County Farmers Market on Tuesday as he prepares for Halloween.

The business
of scary

Halloween profitable, good for family bonding

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com· 340-2435

You blockhead! I could have had apples and gum and cookies and money and other things! … Trick-or-treats only come once a year, and instead I spent all night sitting in a pumpkin patch!

Sally Brown missed the expensive trappings of Halloween thanks to Linus’ infatuation with The Great Pumpkin in Charles Schultz’s classic, but not many do.

Halloween is big business.

“Halloween is our biggest shopping season,” said Nancy Simmers, owner of Party Central in Decatur.

So big, in fact, that for the last three years she has opened a seasonal Halloween store at Colonial Mall. Her main store, which also carries Halloween items, is on Sixth Avenue Southeast.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. farmers grow 998 million pounds of pumpkins a year, a ghoulish percentage of which end up gutted and with diamond eyes.

As a horrified Linus said to Lucy, “You didn’t tell me you were gonna kill it!”

Trick-or-treaters

U.S. streets are carpeted with 36.4 million trick-or-treaters, vying for a share of the $19 billion in candy produced annually by America’s 1,800 candy makers.

“Business is very good. It’s up about 7 percent for this point in the season,” Simmers said. “We’ll see what happens over the next couple weeks. I don’t know if people are just shopping early or if it’s going to be up at the end of the season.”

While sales are up, they are not up as much as she had projected. She’s used to 10 percent annual growth in Halloween sales.

“The fact that the country is sitting here trying to decide whether it’s going into a recession has probably hurt,” Simmers said.

Notwithstanding a scary economy, the National Retail Federation projects the average U.S. consumer will spend $64.82 on Halloween this year, up from $59.06 last year.

Day of holiday an issue

Fearsome latex masks are part of the fun, and industry, of Halloween.
Daily photo by Eric Fleischauer
Fearsome latex masks are part of the fun, and industry, of Halloween.
The day of the week on which Halloween falls has a lot to do with sales. This year it is on a Wednesday, a downer for partiers and trick-or-treaters alike.

“Next year Halloween is on a Friday, so our sales will be up tremendously,” Simmers said.

Simmers’ Halloween store at the mall is a snapshot of popular culture.

On Thursday, two black-shirted customers tried on masks. The $17 latex Burger King guy, enough to turn me off burgers for life, was their favorite.

“There’s a bunch of parties this year,” said Thomas Steele, 22. “We’re looking for something funny.”

The king looked more horrifying than funny.

“Hey, you were laughing. It must be funny,” Steele said.

The hottest selling category of costumes this year at Party Central is, well, hot.

Under the heading of “Adult Sexy” is a collection of costumes that would make an ogre blush. For $16.99, women can show their stuff as “Hottie Police,” “Sexy Convict,” “Jail Bait” or my favorite, “Barbarian Babe.”

“This section was full a few days ago,” said salesperson Liz Couch. “A lot have sold out already.”

But wait, isn’t Halloween for children?

More adult parties

“We’re seeing more and more couples costumes going out the door,” Simmers said. “People are going to home parties. Dressing up just makes it that much more fun.”

Parents with children in tow gravitated away from Adult Sexy, preferring the children’s displays.

Couch said superhero costumes are the favorite.

If your infant trick-or-treater is not quite up to leaping tall buildings in a single bound, you can opt for the legless ladybug costume.

Technology has not passed the ancient holiday by. Inflatable costumes — complete with belt-clip battery packs and battery-operated fans — abound. For $24.99, you can collect candy with a one-piece horse-and-pantaloon combo.

Better leave the spurs at home.

The highest-priced items are decorations, like the 9-foot Grim Reaper that can cheer your home with the specter of death for a mere $79.95.

“Any kind of decoration sells well,” said Simmers. “More and more people are putting up lights and finding it can be a festive occasion.”

The best-selling item for several years running is the Michael Myers mask, from the movie “Halloween.”

The great pumpkin

All this is fun, but what about Linus’ pumpkin?

William Burks of Burks Farms has a huge assortment of pumpkins, both great and small, at his five-acre “you-pick-it” field in Cullman. This season, he’s got the most popular booth at the Decatur-Morgan County Farmers Market.

“It’s a big deal,” Burks said, “and it gets more colorful every year.”

Orange is his mainstay, but white, green and mottled sell as well. He has plenty, thanks to an irrigated field that permitted him to survive the drought.

At the farm, he loves watching children pick through the pumpkins on the vine.

“They just go crazy when they see all those pumpkins,” he said. “They start grinning from ear to ear and their eyes get as big as saucers. I want them to understand that pumpkins don’t come from Winn-Dixie or Kroger, they come from a farm.”

To schedule a group visit, complete with a hay ride, call Burks at 385-2812.

Is it worth the cost?

Of course every dollar that retailers get this season is a dollar less for cash-strapped parents. Is it worth the money or, for that matter, the effort?

“Absolutely,” said Dr. Karis Dampier Knight, a psychiatrist at Magnolia Family Psychiatry in Decatur.

“One of the most important things for children is a sense of ritual, of tradition,” Knight said. “It helps kids feel life is dependable, even when things are not dependable.”

It also is an excellent time to regroup as a family from the daily chaos of individual existence.

“It’s something everyone can do as a family,” Knight said. “Parents need to grab those opportunities wherever they can. Anything that lets families be together and also allows for creativity is worth the money.”

Halloween provides a unique benefit for children not offered by tamer holidays.

“Some of the spooky stuff at Halloween gives kids a chance to master their fears,” Knight explained.

“Being in the dark. Wearing a mask, and knowing that the person behind the mask is your friend or family member. That’s healthy when they are ready for it.”

So parents, pull out your wallets. Replace the Ebenezer Scrooge mask with an upbeat demonic one. Stab the pumpkin and hand out candy. As Knight points out, you may benefit the most.

“One of the greatest pleasures for a parent is when you see children as adults wanting to continue those rituals and traditions,” she said. “That’s one of the highest compliments we as parents can have. It also shows how meaningful those things are.

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