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Thursday, Dec 1, 2022
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All-Year Costumers

The growing number of Halloween stores in the San Fernando Valley that keep their doors open all year are now entering their prime sales weeks. But how exactly do these businesses that are no longer pop-ups manage during the long offseason? These niche retailers mostly stay alive by changing their inventory to follow the annual holiday calendar. But some find secondary revenue streams through specialty customers seeking superhero costumes in January or ghastly décor in July. One such store is Phantom Halloween, formerly branded as Halloween Adventure. The local chain operates a flagship year-round shop in Canoga Park and has other year-round locations in West Hills, Oxnard and San Bernardino. It also has seasonal stores in Ventura and Hermosa Beach. “Year-round stores do better (than pop-ups),” said Phantom co-owner Ryan Goldman. “The signage is up year-round, and customers are repeat customers.” With locations close to Hollywood, some of those repeat customers are prop masters for small- and big-budget film and television productions seeking items. “The studios are aware of our locations, and oftentimes we get people coming in to shop for their Halloween-themed episode or items they may need producing their shows,” Goldman said. For example, Phantom has an informal relationship with game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” in which host Wayne Brady selects members of the studio audience to participate in mini games to win prizes of varying value. Audience members are encouraged to wear vibrant costumes in order to increase their chances of being selected. Phantom’s other major offseason customer bases include theme party attendees, students doing school projects, cosplay enthusiasts, drag queens and even Disney cruise groups. Despite this diverse clientele, holiday shoppers are a core segment of the market that Phantom simply must serve if it wants to stay alive. As soon as Halloween phases out, the stores move into pilgrim costumes, gourds and other autumnal dressings for Thanksgiving, followed closely by Santa hats, elf ears and ugly Christmas sweaters. “We have something for every holiday — for Mardi Gras there’s masks and beads, for Easter there’s Biblical costumes to go with Easter performances the churches put on,” said Goldman. “The date rotates every year because it’s on the Hebrew calendar, but we even have Purim, kind of like the Jewish Halloween. That’s geared towards the Israeli customer in the San Fernando Valley and the West Side. Some people purchase costumes to send to family overseas.” In fact, the company cobranded a few of its stores as Phantom Halloween-Costume Store to advertise their permanent status. Even so, Goldman said his year-round stores sometimes post losses in the spring and summertime. These stores follow the same pattern as retailers that make most of their profits around Christmas – only in the costume business, the cycle shifts forward a few months. “Not every month is a profitable month in off-season costume sales,” Goldman explained. “Halloween is what makes it all worth it.” Spooky sells The National Retail Federation bills Halloween as the sixth-largest commercial holiday on the calendar, beating out St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day and even the Super Bowl in projected earnings. This year, the holiday is expected to scare up more than $8.8 billion — down from 2017’s record spending of $9.1 billion, but still an impressive haul. “Retailers expect to have another strong Halloween season and have stocked up on candy, decorations and the season’s most popular costumes,” NRF President Matthew Shay said in a statement. “Spending hasn’t changed much over the past few years, but we are seeing a noticeable increase in consumers whose Halloween purchases are inspired by their friends, neighbors and even celebrities on social media.” Goldman said that while people’s willingness to spend money for Halloween is good for business, the growing market has incentivized big-name competitors to join the fun. “The Halloween pie is increasing, but everybody’s slice of the pie isn’t necessarily growing at the same rate. A lot of that has to do with online sales,” he said. Phantom currently doesn’t fill orders online, but Goldman said he has been forced to consider adding a web-based marketplace soon. With pop-up behemoths such as Spirit Halloween and big-box retailers like Walmart, Target and Party City going all out each October, Goldman said Phantom’s customer service and employee know-how, especially with cosplay and makeup, are a distinguishing factor that keeps buyers coming back. Real estate factor Nikki Baird, vice president of retail innovation at enterprise management solutions firm Aptos, based in Atlanta, said many permanent Halloween stores nationwide are turning to interactive events to attract new patrons. “One trend I have noticed is an increased frequency of things like zombie crawls … and murder mystery parties seem to be back on the rise,” she told the Business Journal via email. “Millennials and Gen Z are looking for more immersive entertainment that might require costumes.” Baird said she doubts year-round Halloween shops will eclipse pop-ups in popularity any time soon, citing the real estate market as a reason why. “(Pop-ups) exist because the retail real estate market has been very soft for years, which has left a lot of high-square-footage locations available for short-term rents. If we ever get back on top of real estate, those pop-ups will find it harder to grab good locations and stores that are more permanent will have an advantage. But today, I think the pop-up is far more profitable.” Other year-round Halloween stores in the Valley include Halloween Town and its sister shops, Halloween Town Costumes and Halloween Town Kids, all of which live a stone’s throw from one another on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank. In addition to traditional Halloween merch, Halloween Town stocks a dizzying inventory of books, movies, music, art, home décor, novelty gag gifts and all types of pop culture memorabilia to keep window shoppers engaged all year long.

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