Spirit Halloween Rises from the Dead. Again. And Again.


Spirit Halloween is once again open for business. The store known for selling costumes and spooky fall décor at temporary pop-up locations across the United States is making bullish moves in a brutal year for retail.

According to the company, it has opened more than 1,400 storefronts nationwide, more than last year — even as competitors scaled back significantly because of the pandemic. Party City, for example, slashed the number of Halloween City pop-up stores it is opening this fall by 91 percent.

It is almost comforting to see this chain, which is masterful at popping up in recently shuttered storefronts, reappear like clockwork this year, a reminder of seasonal change and the grim reaper of American opportunism, when so many other routines have been disrupted.

At one Spirit location, in the husk of a defunct supermarket at an outdoor mall in Richmond, Va., nothing appeared different from previous years, aside from a small sanitizer dispenser near the entrance, decorated with skeletal hands.

Customers were greeted by a leering, red-eyed animatronic clown, emitting groans from behind sharp teeth. Beyond, the cavernous space offered a vast array of costume options including vampires, cheerleaders, wizards, presidential candidates, non-copyright-violating riffs on “Tiger King” characters, and a surprisingly large selection of costumes in the style of the masked musician Marshmello.

And this year, the temporary lease approach may be an even bigger advantage, Mr. Mantis wrote, citing lower real estate costs as a result of “the tidal wave of 2020 retail bankruptcies and store consolidations.” In other words, Spirit is merrily feasting on the corpses of its fallen foes.

“It’s something that people know they can do, they can really lean in to the decorating. Costume parties and trick or treating, it still feels up in the air, if not unsafe,” she said.

In a news release provided by a spokesman, Spirit urged consumers to follow C.D.C. guidelines with socially distanced celebrations, including “contactless trick or treating,” “virtual ghostly storytelling sessions,” and “devilish midnight treats left for your neighbors.” (The company also said, in a statement to the Times, that it was offering several items to support “contactless trick or treating” including “treat bags on a pole.”)

“At Spirit Halloween we believe Halloween restores hopefulness and provides an outlet for escape, something we all need now more than ever,” said Steven Silverstein, Spirit’s chief executive, in a Sept. 17 interview with the National Retail Foundation. “With many of our stores now open, we’re seeing encouraging initial results and are anticipating a Halloween on par with last year.”

Spirit was founded in 1983 by a San Francisco dress retailer named Joseph Marver, whose store was struggling to attract customers one October. Inspired by the lines outside of a nearby costume shop, he put all of his dresses in storage and filled his store with Halloween-centric items, which sold quickly. The next year he did the same thing at an empty mall storefront and moved $100,000 of merchandise in a month. He kept at it, adding more storefronts each year, until he eventually sold the business to Spencer’s Gifts in 1999.

“I didn’t invent temporary sales,” Mr. Marver told the Seattle Times in 2000. “But I feel like I invented temporary Halloween.”

Two decades later, Spirit has become a Halloween mainstay, its storefronts as emblematic of the holiday’s approach as pumpkins on porches. It’s also a reliable social media punchline; after the president’s Covid-19 diagnosis, someone tweeted an image of the White House adorned with the store’s iconic grim reaper logo, captioned: “Spirit Halloween is ready to make its move.”

“It’s a little bit funny to me that the world is falling apart, but Spirit Halloween persists,” said Nick Lutsko, 29, a songwriter from Chattanooga, Tenn. In September, Mr. Lutsko went viral with a mock theme song for Spirit that he posted on Twitter.

“This is theme for Spirit Halloween / They got ghouls, and new locations on every other street / saving the global economy,” he sang.

In one verse, Mr. Lutsko claimed jokingly that the store promised him “$1,000 for 100 retweets.” The song ended up receiving nearly 9,000 retweets, and he was excited when a Spirit representative did indeed compensate him by sending several thousand of dollars to Mr. Lutsko’s Venmo account. (“His song gave us serious goosebumps so let’s just say his Venmo account is significantly happier these days,” the company said in a statement; it would not reveal the exact dollar amount, however, adding “some things are just between us and the fog machines.”)

Mr. Lutsko said he was inspired to write the song after visiting a Spirit location with his wife, a prolific Halloween decorator, in early September; the approach of the holiday offered a spark of excitement amid a year marked by sadness and dreary Covid-19 angst.

“Every year whenever you see that they start doing, like, the Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks at the beginning of September, it’s like ‘Oh, they gotta wait till October,’” Mr. Lutsko said. But this year the sight of “Spirit Halloween stores opening up at the beginning of September was just like, ‘All right, bring it on, baby. Let’s get to spooky town.’”


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