Fright night is retail delight

Roger Smith fondly recalls the boyhood Halloween his uncle had him spend in a coffin. Then a 10-year-old North Carolina youth, Smith waited for his uncle's signal to pop out and surprise the local trick-or-treaters. Now a 36-year-old Fargo man, S...

Roger Smith fondly recalls the boyhood Halloween his uncle had him spend in a coffin.

Then a 10-year-old North Carolina youth, Smith waited for his uncle's signal to pop out and surprise the local trick-or-treaters.

Now a 36-year-old Fargo man, Smith points to that memory as one of the starting points of his fascination with the spookiest holiday of the year.

"That was like our big to-do, Halloween," Smith said of his family's tradition to go all out.

"The more I did it with my uncle and my grandparents, the more I got into it and the more fun it is," he added.


In his effort to keep his youthful holiday excitement, Smith spares no expense when it comes to creating the scariest yard and unique costumes.

Two years ago, he spent $800 on a body latex costume to transform into an Orc from The Lord of the Rings.

Another year, he spent $350 for Universal Studios in California to make him into Freddy Krueger.

This year, he's planning to cut back a little - he's just spending $100 on a costume and $400 total on holiday preparations.

"It's just to me, growing up, it was like the best holiday of the year. Halloween's just great," Smith said of splurging on the fun.

The average person doesn't go to quite such extremes for holiday fun, but consumers are spending more money on Halloween, a survey found.

A typical consumer will spend $48.48 on merchandise this year, up from $43.57 last year, according to the 2005 Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey.

The survey - conducted by BIGresearch - polled 8,106 consumers in mid-September to determine this year's holiday trends.


Overall, consumers will spend $3.29 billion on Halloween, a 5.4 percent increase from last year.

Much of the increase in spending is expected from young adults ages 18-24, who will buy an average of $50.75 in Halloween merchandise compared with $38.90 last year.

The National Confectioners Association expects $2.08 billion in holiday candy sales.

Evey Yarber, a baker at Fargo's Life Is Sweet, said candy bouquets are popular throughout the month. Cookie sales also take off as the holiday nears.

"Usually what happens is we do the cutouts on the holiday, and we just can't keep up with them," Yarber said of the holiday-shaped cookies.

Halloween is the sixth-largest spending holiday, according to the National Retail Federation. The lower ranking is due to the lack of gift-giving and apparel.

Still, for retailers, Halloween marks the beginning of their favorite time of year - the critical winter holidays.

"It's the first major holiday or theme of the fourth quarter. It usually sets the stage for that," said Moorhead Kmart manager Nick Bosh.


High-demand Halloween merchandise at his store this year includes flying ghosts, caged skeletons, fiber-optic decorations and 8-foot-tall blow-up figures.

How well children's costumes sell often depends on the weather and if parkas are going to cover the costume, Bosh said.

So far, Barbie Magic Pegasus, Care Bears, Batman and Star Wars costumes have been the top kids' choices at Kmart. Adults tend to look for couple's costumes with the same theme.

About 3.8 million girls plan to be princesses this year, according to the Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey.

Other top kids' costumes are witches, Spiderman, monsters and Darth Vader.

The top five adult costumes are witches, vampires, celebrities, monsters and pirates.

Jim Gompf remembers the days when men would have nothing to do with wearing a Halloween costume.

Now it's a scramble for college men to see who can dress up as the coolest pimp.


"Once people get into it, they have fun and realize they can be anything they want to be," said the owner of Gompf Displays at 110 S. University Drive in Fargo.

The Gompf costume house is divided into rental costume categories, such as cartoons, Civil War era, clowns and flappers.

Traditional costumes such as Dracula, witches and pirates remain favorites, said Gompf manager Debby Partridge.

There are also the more unique choices like dressing up as a bottle of whiskey, an M&M or a beer can.

"People in Fargo get excited about Halloween," Partridge said.

"I think it's an escape," she said of the urge to dress up. "There's enough reality. Let's be somebody else for a night."

At the Spirit Halloween Superstore, "somebody else" can mean dressing up as a package of bologna or a whoopee cushion.

The seasonal store is making its first appearance in the metro area and expects to be an annual retailer, said manager Dave Cuzner.


The store at 3215 13th Ave. S., Fargo, is an 8,500-square-foot Halloween haven.

It has costumes for all ages from infants to adults and includes a section for getting pets into the dress-up spirit.

Masks, makeup, fiber-optic lights, party merchandise and other accessories also are available.

Children's costumes include characters from recent movies: Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean and Fantastic Four.

For those looking to get their pets dolled up, Fido can look adorable as a devil, witch, Superman or Batman.

Adult costumes cover a broad spectrum from a Marilyn Monroe ensemble to The Wicked Court, a brand of trendy royalty costumes.

While browsing Spirit Halloween's aisles, Dawn Haas of Page, N.D., gazed appreciatively at a glaring demonic skeleton hovering above her.

For Haas, Halloween is more fun than Christmas as she searches for new additions to her spooky lawn display.


"I don't like the cutesy stuff. I like the scary stuff," she said.

About half of Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey respondents planned to decorate their yards for Halloween, making it the second-biggest decorating holiday behind Christmas.

Concordia College music professor Leigh Wakefield has a long-standing reputation of holiday decorating. Each year, his Moorhead home has a different surprise theme.

Besides the outdoor atmosphere, Wakefield's home becomes the place to be with the indoor friendliness.

Halloween night is like an open house, he said, with college students dropping by and free hot dogs for parents of trick-or-treaters.

"For me, it (Halloween) is a night where kids can just have fun - safe fun, hopefully - imagination and kind of (be) out on their own a little bit," he said.

Marilyn Ruud of West Fargo has turned her yard into a holiday shrine for more than 30 years. Each year, she adds something new.

Her festive ghosts, pumpkins, witches and lights have become such a tradition that groups drive by her home each year to see what she's done.

"It's more for the kids that I do it," Ruud said. "If we don't do it, people wonder what's wrong. If we ever did quit, it could get interesting."

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560

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