Seasonal stores like Spirit Halloween may be killing the Halloween spirit at local independent costume shops, but stores like Creative Costumes & Rental in Olympia have made up for the loss with an increase in their year-round business.
Halloween sales and rentals constitute between 40 and 45 percent of Denise Keegan's business. Keegan, the sole owner of Creative Costumes & Rental, has developed an opinion over the years on pop-up stores like Spirit that sell what she calls snag-in-the-bag costumes.
“They're trying to take income out of a community. Their goal is to make as much money as possible,” Keegan said. “There are solid community mom-and-pop stores and other outlets that sell items that you can see what you're buying. You can take it back.”
Keegan, who opened her store on Rich Road in 1997, said there seem to be more Spirit stores in her area this year. Within a 10-minute drive of her business, she said there are about three or four temporary Spirit locations.
Crystal Rodriguez, manager of marketing and licensing for Spirit, confirmed there are a few more stores in Washington state this year: 34 in 2013 compared to 32 last year.
Both Rodriguez and Sheila Rigney – Spirit's district manager for the southernmost region of Washington, which includes Tacoma, Spanaway, Lakewood, Lacey and Olympia – said they have yet to hear complaints from businesses like Keegan's, though. They said the stores have been positively received by businesses surrounding the storefronts they occupy for about two months each year, from Labor Day through Halloween.
Dori Hayden, owner of Lakewood Costumes, Magic, and Clown, though, also has a complaint.
Over the last 20 years, Halloween sales have dropped from 95 percent to just 35 percent of her business.
But about the time she began noticing the decrease, she found herself specializing her business to cater to professional entertainers. This, over the years, would makeup for the Halloween business she lost.
“We needed to find things to go on during the year,” Hayden explained. “We started branching out, so we were doing a lot more dealing with professional clowns and magicians. That helped with the off-season time.”
October to December are still her busiest months, but Christmas has become just about as big, if not bigger, than Halloween, she said.
There's been about a 20 percent spike in business, particularly in spring and summer months, over the last several years, which she believes is tied to the economic downturn.
“The recession I don't think bothered me at all,” Hayden said. “On the offseason, it's probably helped, because, instead of people going on vacation, they're staying home and having home parties.”
She's seen a lot of birthday parties that call for costumes. The Washington Midsummer Renaissance Faire in Bonney Lake brought a noticeable amount of business this summer. And the growing popularity of zombie walks and other ghoulish events around the Sound have increased traffic at her store year-round.
Keegan said she, too, has noticed a growing trend of themed events.
“My specialty is a higher-end genre. I do a lot of murder mystery dinners, theme weddings (and) specialty events. It seems like there are more opportunities now,” she said. “There are more theme weddings than there used to be. More people are getting in on the act, and that's why I'm a year-round shop. Year-round, overall, I've noticed an increase.”
In her shop, the themed-wedding trend began about three or four years ago.
About that time, she started seeing more customers looking for costumes for conferences too.
“It seems like people are relaxing more with those types of things. They have these great themes where people really have a great excuse to dress up and have fun,” Keegan said. “When you add a theme to something, they bite. It's a lot of fun and it just adds something to an event. It offers a great icebreaker.”
Two or three years ago, she had two Olympia-area doctors come in to get costumes for 12 doctors from around the state who were going to the same conference in Florida.
Later this month, she's helping dress guests at the 1920's-themed Lacey Chamber of Commerce annual auction.
Mary Johnson, who owns Northwest Costume on Sixth Ave. in Tacoma with her husband Tom, said she also does a significant amount of business with people looking for costumes for different themed events. However, she hasn't seen an increase in that aspect of her work in recent years.
Mary couldn't say what effect stores like Spirit have on her business, but Tom could.
“They basically take all our Halloween business away,” he said.
Luckily for the pair, Halloween sales only constitute about 20 percent of sales and rentals for the year. Their store, rather, focuses more on stage and theater wear.