Area costume stores, businesses gear up for ‘spooky season’

Popular costumes by state

AT&T’s All Home Connections compiled data using Google Trends to determine the most-searched costumes in each state.

In Iowa, the top search is a cat. In both Wisconsin and Illinois, the most common search is a witch. Other popular Midwest searches include dinosaurs; Buzz Lightyear, from the film “Toy Story”; and Encanto, a Disney movie released last year.

A slew of Sarahs, a multitude of Marys and a whole lot of Winifreds are expected to take to area streets this Halloween as “Hocus Pocus”-themed costumes make a comeback following the recent release of the film’s sequel.

Local retailers say the three cinematic witches are some of this year’s most popular costumes, along with other recent pop culture icons and timeless year-to-year favorites.

Robert Gatena, assistant manager at Spirit Halloween’s Dubuque location, said other popular picks include Grecian togas and cowboys. He also expects to see more costumes from the video game “Sonic the Hedgehog” and “Stranger Things,” the hit Netflix show that released its fourth season this summer.

“You’ve got ‘Hocus Pocus,’ ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ and the classic horror movie people,” he said. “… (Finding the right costume), it’s about comfort and functionality and finding something people want to wear.”

Gatena said some customers already have stopped in to purchase costumes at the seasonal store, which this year is located in Asbury Plaza, but most of the early traffic has been people looking for decorations.

“Everybody is getting their houses ready for Halloween, so that stuff has been flying off the shelves like home decor, spiderwebs and some of our animatronics,” Gatena said, estimating costume traffic would pick up soon.

Halloween participation is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels this year, according to data from the National Retail Federation. About 69% of consumers plan on celebrating the holiday, garnering an expected record-breaking $10.6 billion in seasonal sales nationwide.

Owner Cheryl Schmieder, of Cheryl’s Costume Closet in Platteville, Wis., said she already has seen increased traffic in her year-round store but that she expects Halloween business to really amp up in mid-October.

Since most of her items are handmade, Schmieder said, she has tried to stick to the classics instead of chasing trends. Pirates are a big hit every year, she said, as well as mobsters and ’50s poodle skirts.

“I think what people often look for is something that’s easy to wear and has an impact, but that doesn’t take them too far out of their comfort zone,” she said.

Schmieder also said there has been an increase this year in people looking for vintage and retro clothes that can double as costumes and everyday wear as certain clothing trends cycle back in fashion.

This is Schmieder’s last year in business, so she hopes to make the most of her final Halloween season. The store usually operates as a costume rental business, but most of her items now are up for sale.

She said her decision to close was motivated by a mix of nearing retirement age and the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and online shopping.

According to data from the NRF, around 31% of people will do their Halloween shopping online this year.

“COVID increased internet traffic, and more and more people started getting stuff on the internet than ever before,” she said. “… I love the costume business, but (closing) is just something I felt like I needed to do.”

In addition to area costume shops, many other local businesses are gearing up for the Halloween season.

Dean Sherman said it is peak season at Sherman’s Pumpkin Farm and Corn Maze in Manchester, Iowa, as people turn out in droves to find their Halloween jack-o’-lanterns.

“When the weather starts to cool off and the leaves come down, people are thinking of pumpkins and corn and squash and decorating,” said Sherman, who compared picking out the perfect pumpkin to picking out a friend.

At K&K Logo Designs and Fabric Supplies in Dyersville, Iowa, customers can shop from an assortment of spooky fabrics, including prints of Frankenstein’s monster, floating white ghosts and cackling witches.

Co-owner Kim Tauke said customers often buy the fabric for Halloween decorations, table runners and homemade trick-or-treat bags.

“There’s so many ideas out there. There’s so many things you can do for fall and for Halloween,” she said “(When you do it yourself), it’s not like everybody is going to have it. It’s unique.”

Amelia Wilson said October is one of the busiest times of the year for Amelia’s Galena Ghost Tours, a haunted tour bus business in Galena, Ill., that runs ghost tours seven days per week.

The closer it gets to Halloween, the more people get interested in the tours and affiliated murder-mystery dinners, Wilson said.

“It’s spooky season, so we’re running at full blast,” she said. “Anything with murder and mayhem goes well with ghost stories and Halloween, so we try to do more themed things around then.”