Scary shopping: The selling of Halloween

"Pop-up" Halloween stores have sprung up all over Kelowna in recent weeks, looking to cash in on the public's desire to dress up.

Cam Law does his best Halloween pirate look at Halloween Alley

Paige Kendall likes dressing up for Halloween—a lot. The 19-year-old from Winfield says she plans to wear not one, but three different costumes on Oct. 31, changing throughout the day.

At various times she will be dressed as Minnie Mouse, a hunter and a gorilla—complete with realistic head—and she has made all the costumes herself.

“(Halloween) is a pretty big deal for me. You get to dress up and have fun,” said Kendall earlier this week, as she waited for her boyfriend to finish trying on the one costume he plans to wear this year.

Luke Whittaker, 20, selected a tuxedo version of the stretch suits made popular by the two Vancouver Canuck hockey superfans known by many simply as “the Green Guys.”

The full-body, fluorescent green stretch nylon suits that the animated pair of exuberant hockey fans wore to games—particularly during the Canucks’ Stanley Cup run in 2011—are a big seller for Halloween this year. Coming in a myriad of different patterns and colours, the Morph Suits, as they are now known, are popular with both kids and adults.

But unlike Kendall, Whittaker is buying his costume this year. And he’s not alone.

Halloween has become big business locally and anyone shopping for costumes, accessories, make-up or even elaborate scary displays for their yard has plenty of choice in Kelowna.

That’s because in the last few months there has been an explosion of “pop up” Halloween stores here.

Four large, temporary Halloween supply outlets have opened since September, all with extensive inventories that allow young and old to look their ghoulish, or in some cases not so ghoulish, best either at parties this weekend or out trick or treating next Wednesday night.

But the howling business boom for Halloween here will be short-lived.

After a frantic two-month existence, the stores will pack up any remaining stock, ship it back to distributors and shut their doors on Nov. 2. Some will hold 50 per cent off sales on Nov. 1 to blow out inventory.

Two of the four pop-ups are new this year—Spirit Halloween downtown, located in the former A&B Sound building on Leon Avenue and Halloween City on Highway 97 near the intersection with Highway 33.

They joined Halloween Alley, located just north of Burtch Road, and Halloween Distributors on Harvey at Hardy Road.

The latter two opened for the first time here last year and are back again to vie for the local consumer’s Halloween dollar.

The quartet, which use large, rented street-level spaces, are associated with U.S. or Canadian speciality store retail chains.

They all carry huge inventories and sell a lot of the same merchandize.

But if you can envision yourself wearing it, chances are between the four specialty stores and the venerable Kelowna costume stalwart Calowna Costumes on Bernard Avenue, perennial used-clothing favourite Value Village in Rutland and a host of local department stores and large drug stores, you will find what you are looking for here.

Browsing the aisles of the speciality stores, there is no shortage of variations on a theme. You can go scary, sexy, funny or just flat out weird.

You can buy the full costume and head out as is, or you can accessorize with everything from plastic axes dripping in fake blood to plastic severed limbs and an eyeball or two.

You can find costumes for yourself, your children, for babies and even the family pet.

You can add the afore mentioned accessories, build your own costume and transform your face using make up, masks and prosthetics galore.

From animals to zombies and everything in between, this year Kelowna residents can play dress-up like never before.

And, according to store managers, business is brisk. “It’s been really busy for us, especially in the last few days,” said Deb Lawless, of Halloween Alley By Famous Toys.

She ran the same temporary store at the same location last year and said she has noticed a huge jump in the popularity of Halloween here between then and now.

“Even driving around, you notice so many more houses are decorated,” said Lawless, who has lived in Kelowna for 11 years and run similar seasonal businesses here in the past.

She said, for her store, there has been interest from the day she opened the doors.

“The day I got the keys, someone saw me unlock the door and asked when could they come in to start buying,” she said.

Down the road, at Spirit Halloween, business has also been good during its first foray into the city. Manager Sean McIntosh, whose family runs similar Halloween stores in Surrey and Abbotsford, said like Kelowna, last year in Abbotsford several pop-up Halloween stores opened in the months leading up to the big day.

But this year, many did not return. Kelowna, however, is different. He sees it as a natural fit for a Halloween store such as his. “We’ll definitely be back next year,” he vowed.

In addition to the same large array of costumes, accessories and make-up as its competitors, Spirit Halloween sells large animatronic displays, including giant spiders that leap out at you when you stand on pressure-sensitive foot pad triggering device and ghouls that moan and grown complete with flashing lights and sounds using the same method.

With a little clever camouflage, anyone approaching is sure to get a fright if they don’t know what’s coming.

After Halloween, the store plans to auction off its store displays to raise money for charity.

As for business, despite the large number of competitors, McIntosh said his store has done well.

The store is a part of a U.S. chain that has more than 1,000 outlets across the U.S. and Canada and as a result has huge buying power.

Like Halloween Alley and Spirit Halloween, Halloween City has also seen large numbers of customers passing through its doors, especially this week as many last-minute shoppers plan to attend Halloween parties this weekend.

Store representative Shelley Nuttall said with so much choice in Kelowna this year, people are shopping around, comparing prices and checking out what’s available.

She said while zombies and other gruesome-looking characters are big this year, so too are some non-threatening characters, like video game star Mario, as well as superheroes and ninjas for the kids.

And, like the managers at other stores, Nuttall said she has also found many people are choosing to modify their costumes this year by adding make-up to personalize their particular scary style.

“Some of the (make-up) stuff is very realistic,” she said, pointing to realistic-looking plastic cuts, gouges and burns that you can buy and apply to skin.

With the popularity of zombies on television, in movies and books—and even in the streets recently with the annual Zombie Walk—the gruesome look is in for young and old.

That’s something Lawless has noticed as well.

“I find that if someone wants to go as Harry Potter, they may use make-up to create a zombie Harry Potter,” she said. “People still like to be creative.”

And that is what Calowna Costumes is having to be this year as it faces a number of challenges.

Along with the arrival of the plethora of temporary Halloween stores, the store is located on Bernard Avenue behind the construction fencing along the street that hides the business store front.

But while manager Kerri Brandel admits she has seen a drop in business, she said Halloween is still a very busy time at her store. She said the year-round business still has a lot of loyal fans and after 30 years, many still consider it the go-to place to check out Halloween costumes.

“Kelowna has been amazing in supporting us and we’re grateful,” said Brandel, eager to let the public know that the Bernard Avenue rehabilitation construction has not closed her store to foot traffic.

She said Halloween is increasingly becoming as big for adults as it is for the kids who head out to trick or treat in costume.

The store has trained make-up artists on hand who can teach customers the best way to get the desired look, whether it be small details or a total makeover.

“I am seeing people getting very creative (with both their costumes and their make-up),” Brandel said, adding that’s where a store like hers has an advantage over its temporary competitors.

And it also provides something the new stores don’t. It rents out costumes. “By the time it gets down to the last week (before Halloween), people are not so picky but we have a large stock, so it’s very unusual for us to run out.”

As for the large number of temporary stores that have sprung up this year, Brandel said she was surprised to see that occur. She can’t quite figure out why, other than to point to the area’s growing population.

Meanwhile, for those on the other side of the counter, the increase in choice is welcome.

Alda Luck, of Kelowna, a mother of three, said she used to go to the U.S. to buy Halloween costumes for her kids, ages 9, 10 and 13. Halloween is a big deal for her children, she said, and finding variety here in the past had been an issue. But not this year.

The Morph Suits have been a hit with her kids and even though the bill does add up, she said it’s nice to be able to get what she is looking for here, rather than driving south.

“Yea, it can be expensive,” said Luck, as she watched her son model the gold-coloured Morph Suit he picked out.

“But it’s nice to see we can get this stuff here in Kelowna now.”