Halloween Shops “Pop Up” Around the City

By Nakeisha Campbell and Kelvin Murphy

Spirit Halloween
Pop-up stores, which set up in a vacant retail space for weeks or months, then shut, are increasingly popular among consumers. Photo by Nakeisha Campbell.

Most Halloweens, John Rosenberger usually visits thrift shops for his costumes. But this year he decided to visit Spirit Halloween’s pop-up shop at 766 Sixth Avenue, one of those stores that springs into being for a few months, or even weeks, then shuts.

“My lady friend wants to be Fiona from Adventure Time,” Rosenberger, 26, said. “She’s trying it on. She’s a small, but they’re already sold out of those, so we’re trying a medium.”

Another first-time pop-up shopper, Wilma Cordero, 25, said, “I’m just really looking for a specific costume; I go first online to check out what I like, and then I look around to see if all these stores have it, but this is actually my second store today.” She was at the same Spirit store.

Spirit and Ricky’s are both national chains that operate Halloween stores, some year-round and some seasonal pop-ups. Ricky’s has 27 year-round locations in the New York metropolitan area and one in Miami. Esti Lamonica, the store manager of Ricky’s at East 23rd Street and Third Avenue, said the company opened 30 pop-up Halloween locations in the New York area last year, and this year no more than a dozen.

Halloween has increasingly turned into a holiday for adults as well as children, and the average American shopper spent about $80 on Halloween-related items this year, according to BIGinsight, a monthly consumer survey. Although stores like Party City remain popular for Halloween shopping, many people are gravitating toward specialized pop-up shops, such as temporary stores that sell Halloween merchandise throughout October. Locations can range from vacant real estate to vacant retail spaces, and the shops disappear quickly.

“I do think that there are massive hordes of people running to these stores because they’re not commonplace,” said Christina Norsig, C.E.O. and founder of PopUpInsider.

A permanent store, she said, “doesn’t deliver with that sense of urgency, really truly, if it’s long term, if it’s in other neighborhoods, in the town you’re in, it’s not going to draw the crowds. If you open up something truly original for a limited period of time with a limited assortment, and it’s really special, you’re going to get people buzzing around it.”

Aside from their popularity with consumers, many building owners see pop-ups as a way to fill vacant space and show off the property.

At Spirit Halloween on Sixth Avenue, an assistant manager who would identify herself only as Debbie said: “American Apparel was here before us, and before that was a temporary furniture store outlet. They actually have a permanent tenant here now, coming in after us, but we had this two years in a row.”

The Spirit Halloween aisles were filled with colorful masks and outfits, including scary zombie outfits, superheroes and cartoon characters.

While Ricky’s has cut the number of its pop-up stores in New York, Spirit Halloween seems to be increasing them. Last year, the company said, it had more than 1,000 pop-ups in 49 states, compared with 63 in 1999.

Norsig said Halloween pop-ups had been increasing since 2009. “Last year, Halloween pop-up stores, I want to say were up 8 percent, over the year before. And the year before that was 15 percent up.”

While Ricky’s and Spirit Halloween carry both children and adult costumes, both seem to target adults, especially on their web sites. A search for “adult costumes” returns thousands of choices on either web site, far more than a search for “children’s costumes.”

Halloween pop-up shops also sold costumes and masks of political candidates, certainly more popular with adults than children.

The Halloween industry continues to grow every year. Over 70 percent of Americans plan to celebrate Halloween or participate in Halloween activities this year, a 20 percent increase since 2005, according to BIGinsight.

“After the storm, after two years, of Halloween almost being, not canceled but not quite full on, I have to wonder what next year is going to look like for the seasonal business.” said Norsig. “I’m just wondering if they’re going to scale back the amount because of the losses this year. I have to believe it wasn’t a stellar year in terms of the sales.”

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