Best Halloween Store: Spirit Halloween

Jessika Jaramillo, left, and Jordan Santiago, of Hollywood, Florida, shop for fake intestines at Spirit Halloween store in Davie, Florida.

For some shoppers — especially those who didn’t figure out their costume idea until a few days before the holiday — Halloween pop-ups are one of very few places to get a last-minute costume. If you order a costume through a specialty website like Yandy or Leg Avenue, it’s possible that it won’t arrive on time.

The Spirit Halloween on Broadway, meanwhile, is open seven days a week and closes at 11 pm; Party City’s New York locations are open until midnight. It’s not hard to imagine someone popping in to buy a costume after work, or someone realizing they’re missing a key accessory on their way to a party.

As more big-box retailers file for bankruptcy, turn to online sales, or close their doors altogether, Stern said, it’s possible that Halloween stores will expand even more, and that other types of retailers may soon follow suit. “I think there’s going to be a lot of vacant real estate. The question is, are there other models that we might see adopt similar strategies?”

Retail may be dying, but the Halloween pop-up store is here to stay — until November, that is.

On the Job: Tina Currie, of Lisbon, Maine, strides through Spirit Halloween, a pop-up costume and decoration shop at the former location of Bob’s Stores on Maine Mall Road.

At the Spirit Halloween on Broadway, two employees — who declined to give their names — told me they started working there in September. One of them said she got the job because she knew the manager; the other nodded her head in agreement but didn’t specify how she started working. They had previous retail experience but hadn’t worked at a Halloween store before, they both said, and they knew the jobs ended in November. Then they went back to checking out customers.

Party City’s Halloween preparation — the scouting of store locations and deliberations on which costumes to carry — also begins a year in advance, Bloomberg reported in 2016. Seasonal employees are hired in the summer, and merchandising teams begin setting up the stores in August. The company hired 35,000 seasonal employees in 2016.

Neil Stern, a senior partner at the real estate consulting firm McMillanDoolittle, told me that these deals are good for both landlords and temporary tenants. “Some money is better than no money,” said Stern. “There’s a lot of [vacant big-box stores] out there that are otherwise sitting vacant right now. Obviously it’s not as good as a permanent lease, but it’s better than nothing. There’s relatively little downside.”

The death of retail is good for Halloween pop-ups

This year, Spirit Halloween pop-ups have opened in vacant Toys R Us and Babies R Us stores, shuttered grocery stores, and at least one credit card company’s former headquarters.

Stern told me he saw a Spirit Halloween store open up in a former grocery store near his house. “It was a huge space, like, 60,000 square feet,” he said. “They just took part of the space. I’ve seen them go into a [former] Pier 1 [Imports] space in my neighborhood. They’re very creative and flexible in the kind of spaces that they’ll take.”

These temporary stores typically pay more rent than long-term tenants, according to a Halloween Express agent who spoke to CityLab on the condition of anonymity in 2014. The leases are typically six to eight weeks long; most stores are vacated by November 15 at the latest.

All of this would be impossible without the existence of vacant retail properties in need of tenants, even if those tenants only plan on being there for a few weeks. What’s bad for retail is good for Halloween pop-ups, at least to a point. These companies need vacant spaces to fill, but they also need nearby stores to draw in consumers.

Strip-mall vacancies rose to 11.1 percent during the recession, according to CityLab — not great for retailers but a huge opportunity for Halloween pop-ups. “During the crash, I would get calls before this Halloween to ask if I wanted space for next Halloween,” the anonymous Halloween express agent told the website.

Once the economy started improving, though, pop-up Halloween stores started having trouble finding locations. “It was a lot easier [in 2012] to find spaces that were, say, 10,000 square feet and above,” Randy Koziatek of Halloween Express told CityLab.

But recent retail shutterings and bankruptcies may be a boon for these temporary stores. As more big-box retailers file for bankruptcy, turn to online sales, or close their doors altogether, Stern said, it’s possible that Halloween stores will expand even more, and that other types of retailers may soon follow suit. “I think there’s going to be a lot of vacant real estate. The question is, are there other models that we might see adopt similar strategies?”

And unlike other retailers, Halloween stores may not be too susceptible to the rise of online shopping.

“The big thing for a retail store is that there’s a sense of discovery,” Stern told me. “There’s a bit of a treasure-hunt mindset associated with it. Like, ‘I want to decorate my house but I don’t know how I’m going to decorate my house, so I want to look around and be inspired. It doesn’t mean that the business isn’t going online, but it’s a category that lends itself particularly well to a physical store.”

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