CHICAGO-”This isn’t busy,” Kosta Panayotoy told GSR about a week and a half before Halloween. “Next week, you won’t be able to get in here.”

Panayotoy is the co-owner of the Chicago Costume Co., whose year-round store is located on the city’s North Side. But in speaking with GSR, he was referring to the company’s temporary store in Chicago’s CBD, opened a few weeks before at the site of a defunct Briazz restaurant at 201 W. Madison. At the time, about two dozen people — all adults — were in the temporary shop, inspecting its sizable selection of kids’ and adults’ costumes, headgear, props, and Halloween novelty items.

“In October, we open in a few other places in Chicago,” he said. “I don’t know what the numbers are going to be this year, but every year until last sales got better and better. In a good economy, people have money. In a bad economy, they want to party.”

The Chicago Costume Co. is participating in a larger trend, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF) and the Retail Council of Canada, both of which have noted increasing Halloween sales in recent years, and which project a good 2004 for both countries. According to the NRF Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, spending is estimated to reach $3.12 billion in the United States, up from $2.96 billion last year. The Retail Council of Canada estimates that Halloween spending in that country will be up 4% from last year¹s total of C$769 million ($618.7 million).

The NRF survey notes that the average U.S. consumer plans to spend $43.57 on Halloween merchandise this year, up from $41.77 last year. Candy remains an important item on Halloween shopping lists with consumers spending an average of $14.83 apiece, but more money goes to buying costumes, an average of $15.21 per consumer, according to the survey.

“Halloween fills an important retail void between back-to-school and the holiday season,” says NRF president and CEO Tracy Mullin. “Many retailers are carving out quite a niche for themselves.”

Which retailers? Wal-Mart and other discounters that can carry candy and costumes in bulk, along with specialty costume shops that can offer a good selection and an interesting shopping experience, says James Lowry, a professor of marketing at Ball State University in Indiana, who has been tracking retail trends for nearly 40 years.

“Throughout the 1990s, employment and income rose, and the baby boomers got older,” Lowry tells GSR. “Halloween was something they didn’t want to give up, and there was money to spend on it.”

Lowry adds that he doesn¹t believe that will change, even though the economy is slower now than in the ‘90s. “Over the last decade Halloween has become an adult holiday, while children have become secondary for many retailers,” he notes. “Adults want to relive that time when they could pretend to be a superhero or a monster.”

Though Halloween is increasingly important as a shopping occasion, it isn’t a gift-giving holiday, and so according to the NRF it will remain sixth in total spending this year behind Christmas and the other winter holidays ($219.9 billion estimated), Valentine’s Day ($12.79 billion), Easter ($10.47 billion), Mother’s Day ($10.43 billion), and Father¹s Day ($8.04 billion).

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