Will consumers turn into the “Shopping Dead” this Halloween and slash spending on costumes, candy and other Halloween-themed items? It depends on whom you talk to.
Many Omaha-area haunt centers, including Mangelsen's and Brite Ideas Decorating, say they're confident sales will rise again this year. “People have fun when it comes to Halloween and they're not afraid to spend,” said Jeremy Lubash, prop room manager at Mangelsen's.
Halloween sales have climbed nearly 55 percent since 2005. But largely because of declining confidence in the U.S. economy tied to the partial government shutdown, fewer Americans are expected to celebrate Halloween this year. Just 158 million people will adorn themselves, their children, homes or pets for the popular holiday, compared with 170 million in 2012, the National Retail Federation said.
The predicted 7.6 percent decline in the number of zombies, witches and Disney princesses that hit the trick-or-treat trail would decrease the wear-and-tear on the doorbell, but it also would put a strain on Halloween sales, reducing them by an estimated $1.1 billion. Total spending is expected to reach $6.9 billion this year, down from $8 billion in 2012. Revelers are expected to spend an average of $75.03 this year on Halloween, down from $79.82 in 2012, which could take a nasty bite out of retailers' Halloween profits.
Lubash, a seven-year veteran of Mangelsen's, said he's not buying it. With the weather turning chillier, shoppers have been crowding the store, buying costumes, accessories and Halloween home decor. “Sales are up and the closer we get to Halloween the more people are coming in,” he said.
Michael Beha, 37, of Omaha was scanning the selection of full-face masks at Mangelsen's last week. “They run about $60 to $100,” Beha said, peering at the latex faces of green-tinted ghouls and the walking dead. “Last year I went as Shaggy from Scooby-Doo and spent $10,” Beha said. “This year I'll probably spend about $200 on a mask and costume. I run a meat department and we do wear our costumes to work.”
Others say they won't change their Halloween budget.
“I've budgeted about $40 for the whole family,” said Heather Campbell, the stay-at-home mother of Makayla, 6, Katlynn, 3, and Briana, 1. “That's about the same as last year.” Campbell's husband is dressing up as Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” one of this Halloween's most popular characters, according to local retailers.
Spirit Halloween, which operates temporary holiday stores across the United States and Canada, opened 1,050 locations this year, compared with 1,000 last year, up 5 percent.
At the Spirit Halloween store at 72nd and Dodge Streets in the former Borders bookstore, manager Amanda Shannon said sales have been picking up week by week.
“We opened the first week of September,” she said, and she expects to see daily sales in the double-digit thousands this week and next.
“It seems like people are spending more this year than last,” said Tiffany Wallace, a store clerk. “We're selling a lot of items that people can use for their home haunts.
The animated electronic props, including the “Jumping Dog,” “Convulsing Nurse” and “Limb-Eating Zombie Boy,” range in price from $50 to $200. “I've seen a lot of people come in and drop a lot of coin on props,” Wallace said.
Retailers say Halloween sales typically take off about two weeks before the holiday.
But industry analysts said the partial government shutdown has struck fear into the hearts of consumers, pointing to a steep drop in the nation's economic confidence, as measured the first week of October by Gallup's Economic Confidence Index.
Gallup reported the second-largest weekly decline since it began tracking Americans' economic confidence in January 2008. The index plummeted 12 points the first week of October, second only to the 15-point decline that occurred in September 2008 after Lehman Bros. filed for bankruptcy.
Halloween is the third-largest event for many retailers in terms of sales, after the winter holiday shopping season and back-to-school sales, and the partial government shutdown could affect Halloween.
In the Gallup survey, 67 percent said the economy was getting worse. Such pessimism could result in a frightening pullback on purchases.
“Retailers represent the sector of the American economy that is most closely tied to consumer attitudes, and these numbers are deeply concerning,” said David French, a senior vice president at the National Retail Federation.
For Travis Freeman, owner of Brite Ideas Decorating in Omaha, Halloween is the second-biggest decorating holiday, after Christmas, “and it's getting even bigger for us every year.”
“In the last five years, we've seen it grow,” said Freeman, who has been in business for 22 years.
So far, sales have been brisk, and the popular lighted scarecrows, glittering pumpkins and purple-concave lights have sold out and are on reorder. “We haven't seen a slowdown,” Freeman said, in spite of the national economic uncertainty.
Longtime customer Mike Anzalone, whose Omaha house near 35th and Leavenworth Streets is a popular neighborhood destination, said he planned new lights for his haunt this year.
Other area stores say sales are comparable to last year.
At Nobbies, which has stores in Omaha, Bellevue and Des Moines, Omaha department manager Stacie Collins said that sales are steady but also that she's seen a shift in sales.
“People, especially women, are buying accessories like wigs and bracelets instead of the full costumes,” Collins said.
And while Halloween home decor sales are strong, she said, shoppers are passing up the larger electronic props for medium-sized props that sell for $30 to $60, such as the “Little Mummy Baby.”