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Temporary Halloween Stores a Trend

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A few weeks ago Instapundit asked the question:

    “Is it just me, or are people making a bigger deal out of Halloween than they used to?”

No, it’s not just a law professor in Tennessee noticing Halloween. It’s happening all across America. Halloween has become a big deal in the United States. Halloween sales are expected to reach US$3.12 Billion this year, according to the National Retail Federation.

A survey by the Macerich Company (a REIT which invests in shopping malls) says that a majority of Americans (59%) plan to participate in Halloween this year.

That’s a pretty amazing figure, which means more people will be participating in Halloween than are likely to vote. Only 60% of registered voters are expected to come out to vote for the leader of the free world — and 60% voter turnout would be close to a record in recent years.

This unprecedented interest comes to a holiday that started out 25 centuries ago in Celtic Ireland, where it marked the end of harvest time and the start of winter. In medieval times the holiday coincided with the eve of All Saints’ Day. The name “Halloween” comes from medieval England’s All Hallows’ eve (Old Eng. hallow=saint).

In places across America — like Des Moines, Iowa and Akron, Ohio — the retail landscape is changing as a result of the interest in Halloween.

First of all, it is driving a trend toward large superstores opening seasonally just to sell Halloween goods. This report by Patt Johnson of the Des Moines Register summarizes it:

    “No longer are discount stores and small seasonal shops enough for some fright-night fans. This year in Des Moines, at least four superstores have opened, joining mass merchandisers and other shops that offer goods for Halloween, Oct. 31.

    ‘People are really getting into it,’ said Mike Fitzgibbons, who operates two Spirit Halloween Superstores. ‘And it’s not just kids, but adults, too.'”

This trend toward large superstores opening up for temporary sales is sure to change the dynamics for smaller costume shops and smaller retailers. On the one hand, these superstores can be stiff competition for smaller, local independents. In typical “big box” fashion, with their huge sourcing power, they offer a large selection at prices most smaller retailers cannot afford to compete with.

On the other hand, all the visibility and marketing by these superstores increases the interest in Halloween overall. On the theory of a rising tide raising all ships, it can lead even family-owned costume shops to higher sales.

The growth in temporary Halloween stores also signals a change in the real estate landscape. In recent years, landlords have warmed to the idea of temporary tenants coming in to sell just for a holiday season or limited time. Temporary leasing has become a US$10 Billion per year industry. Temporary tenants are becoming an important niche for retail real estate, as this article by Mary Etheridge in the Akron Beacon Journal suggests:

    “In February of this year, Circuit City closed its Fairlawn big-box store, leaving the city with a gaping hole in its otherwise healthy retail landscape.

    But in September, Halloween USA, a division of the Michigan-based Gags and Games Inc., moved into the vacated space for eight weeks to sell costumes and decorations to holiday revelers.

    It is one of 50 temporary and 30 year-round party stores for Gags and Games.

    Temporary tenants such as Halloween USA are an increasingly important niche of retail, creating income for center owners, driving business to neighboring retailers, giving marketers a chance to try new products and helping landlords maintain the appearance of success.”

Temporary tenancy also has its positive side for entrepreneurs and budding retail businesses. It presents a chance for entrepreneurs to test market. As the same article notes, quoting Patrice Duker, spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers:

    “Temporary tenancy is also a chance for entrepreneurs to test concepts or capitalize on what’s hot without a long-term commitment, said Duker.

    For instance, the hat retailer Lids and home store Yankee Candle both began as temporary tenants.

    ‘A retailer can build a business slowly but get the kind of exposure that comes from being in a center,’ said Duker.”

This post first appeared in the author’s weblog, Small Business Trends. Sign up for our free newsletter!

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  • Y’know, it strikes me that there’s a market here for some enterprising developer or businessman. With this apparent trend in temporary superstore / big box stores serving a particular holiday for a short time, it seems like someone should build a configurable empty big box — with its own POS / registers, modular shelves, blank signage, etc. — that companies can rent out for set periods. In other words, I own the store and maybe even the employees, but rent it out to some temporary “Halloween marketer” for Halloween, some “Fourth of July marketer” for Independence Day, some Valentine’s Day company etc…. Seems like an opportunity there.

  • Mike, That’s an intriguing idea.

    After all, it’s just one step beyond malls that rent out floor space to tenants.

    And the advantage to the “rentable big box” concept is that consumers would get accustomed to looking in the same location for the temporary store. They’d know where to look at Halloween, at Christmas, etc.

  • Eric Olsen

    Great story Anita, thanks, you see this at most of our area malls. Mike’s idea is very interesting too, and is just the next logical step in the process.

  • Joe Wiorek

    As an owner of a small costume shop opened year round, I can empirically state these “temporary” stores do not help raise our sales. As they try to open as close as possible to our store they take sales form us. These stores contribute nothing to the community and are not there for families that need costuming/makeup for school events. As the halloween season is the time we make the majority of our sales, it is bscoming increasingly difficult to cover our over head the remainder of the year to service our customers. This trend is another attack on the small independent retailers and the continuing homogenization of America. These stores contribute to the blight of the “big box” stores that destroy the locale flavor of the towns.

  • Most of what these stores sell is generic crap. I would think that a local store that’s open year round could outdo them easily by carrying quality products – plus by renting higher quality costumes that would be too expensive for people to buy.


  • Joe Wiorek


    We compete with the “temps” and the Big box retailers, Walmart etc. exactly the way you describe. We have many loyal customers that would not even dream of stepping into a temporary store. We still need to increase volume by attracting the price conscious consumer and impulse shopper. The temporary stores with thier buying power and lower overhead (2 months rent verses 12, no need to carry inventory after Oct 31)take many of these customers from us. We contribute to other businesses in the community and donate time and costumes throught the year for charitable events. The tempoary stores come in for two months, and take the profits out of the communities they are in, giving nothing back. If this trend continues, soon there will be no more costume shops open year round.

  • Michael Glenn

    What’s the answer then? The big temporary mega stores are not going to go away. Is there ‘middle ground’?