Halloween a treat for businesses

Spending on holiday expected to reach $6.9 billion this year

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For companies across the nation, Halloween is big business.

An estimated 158 million people will celebrate the holiday this year, according to the National Retail Federation, spending about $6.9 billion on candy, costumes, decorations, party favors and more.

Since 2005, the trade group reports, total Halloween spending has increased approximately 55 percent nationwide.

"Halloween is huge," said Lisa Barr, senior director of marketing for Spirit Halloween. "It's not just for trick-or-treaters anymore. Adults have really hopped on the bandwagon. It's a stress-free holiday where you can really let loose."

Spirit Halloween is one of several pop-up retailers who take up otherwise vacant storefronts in shopping centers around the nation each fall. Nationwide, the company — part of the Spencer Gifts chain — has about 1,050 stores, Barr said. They'll remain open until Nov. 3.

Hot costumes this year, according to Barr, include traditional items such as superheroes and zombies, as well as pop culture knockoffs such as singer Miley Cyrus, whose bizarre "twerking" — a type of dance — during the MTV Video Music Awards garnered worldwide attention.

"The twerkin' teddy and twerk suits have been very difficult to keep on shelves," she said.

Thrift shops report brisk sales this time of year, as well.

"It's a busy time of year for us," said Zubin Segal, public relations manager at Goodwill Industries of Central Texas. "We create an entire section devoted to Halloween in each of our stores."

Goodwill stores stock an assortment of new and used costumes, as well as makeup and decorations. Items for sale vary by location, Segal said.

"It really depends where you go," he said. "Each store has its own personality. We take Halloween seriously and try to create costume options based upon the type of customer who typically comes in."

That means, for instance, that some locations catering to college students and young adults "like to keep it weird," Segal said, while stores in suburbs typically have more of a family focus.

Shoppers this time of year, according to Segal, include regulars and a healthy dose of newcomers.

"We definitely experience an increase of people coming through the doors," he said. "We really like seeing people come in and create their costumes."

The average American will spend $75.03 on Halloween this year, the National Retail Federation says. That's down slightly from last year's average of $79.82, a decrease of 6 percent.

Costume shops aren't the only businesses popping up in vacant storefronts — so are haunted houses.

"Tens of thousands" of people each year head to House of Torment in Austin, Texas, founder Daniel McCullough said. On peak nights, typically weekends, he said the wait to get inside can be as long as two to three hours.

"We've become kind of an institution," he said of House of Torment, now in its 11th year. "Word of mouth is our strongest tool. What's better than your friend telling you how much they liked it?"