COVID-19

Tricky pandemic Halloween might be a treat for businesses

Kristin Schwab Oct 5, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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Halloween is a nearly $9 billion industry, according to the National Retail Federation. Above, people shop for Halloween items in Alhambra, California. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Tricky pandemic Halloween might be a treat for businesses

Kristin Schwab Oct 5, 2020
Halloween is a nearly $9 billion industry, according to the National Retail Federation. Above, people shop for Halloween items in Alhambra, California. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images
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Halloween is bound to look a lot different this year, with limited group gatherings and social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Costume parties are out of the question, and some cities have gone as far as making recommendations against trick-or-treating.

All of this is going to affect sales of Halloween costumes, decorations and candy, a nearly $9 billion industry, according to the National Retail Federation. So businesses are trying to figure out how to turn this year’s trick into a treat.

For 27 years, Headless Horseman Hayrides and Haunted Houses in Ulster Park, New York, has been exactly what it sounds like — hayrides and haunted houses. But this year, piling 35 guests into a wagon won’t work. So the hayride has become a drive-thru, with a spooky soundtrack riders play through an app.

But making the change wasn’t easy. The hayride is usually a huge production, with nearly 400 carpenters, makeup artists and actors. “Our entire show is themed and scripted,” said Michael Jubie, who owns the business with his wife, Nancy. “On a normal evening, we have a storyteller that travels on every wagon. I like to describe it as a traveling play.”

This year, guests will be contained to their cars and actors stationed alone on the trail. That comes with some theatrical sacrifices.

“It’s a lot harder to scare you from 10 feet away,” Jubie said.

The shift came with financial sacrifices, too. Jubie spent thousands of dollars converting the trail to make it car friendly by building barriers and buying speed bumps. And he lowered ticket prices by $10. Jubie is just aiming to break even this year, which is challenging because he can only run at 25% capacity.

Masks are expected to be popular this year. Don’t forget to wear cloth masks underneath. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Plus, Halloween is a seasonal business.

“You really cram it down into about three weeks,” said Kevin Johnson, chairman of the Halloween & Costume Association.

Johnson expects the retail window for costumes and candy to get even smaller this year because people are waiting until the last minute to decide if it’s safe to trick or treat.

But throughout the pandemic, plenty of people have continued celebrating occasions. The celebrations just look a little different.

“It could either be the worst year we’ve ever had or the best year we’ve ever had,” said Tom Fallenstein, CEO of HalloweenCostumes.com.

In April, his company’s sales of bunny costumes were significantly up from the year before because more people celebrated Easter at home. Fallenstein thinks parents might go all out this Halloween to make up for the pandemic, with decorations and Zoom costume parties. Boo bags, little gift bags homeowners fill with candy and put outside so they don’t have to answer the door, are trending.

And, of course, what is more 2020 than masks? Halloween has plenty of them.

“We expect people to just feel safer in something like that. You know, if you see a costume like a Darth Vader costume with a full mask or, you know, the gloves to go with Spider-Man,” Fallenstein said.

The Centers for Disease Control and prevention warns costume masks do not replace cloth masks. But there’s always the classic, mask-friendly costume companies are stocking up on: doctor.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

Are people still waiting for unemployment payments?

Yes. There is no way to know exactly how many people have been waiting for months and are still not getting unemployment, because states do not have a good system in place for tracking that kind of data, according to Andrew Stettner of The Century Foundation. But by his own calculations, only about 60% of people who have applied for benefits are currently receiving them. That means there are millions still waiting. Read more here on what they are doing about it.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out Tuesday from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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