Spirit of season: Local retailers see increased Halloween sales amid pandemic

Drexel Thole, 7, shows off a mask to Jadyn Thole, of La Motte, Iowa, while shopping at Spirit Halloween in Dubuque on Tuesday. Local retailers report strong interest in Halloween-related merchandise this year. PHOTO CREDIT: NICKI KOHL

After finishing work for the day, a bustling crowd of masked shoppers glided through the aisles at Spirit Halloween in Dubuque, looking to snag a costume or mask.

Local retailers said they have seen an abundance of customers this year on the prowl for Halloween costumes, decorations, fabric and items despite many changes and restrictions impacting the holiday due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have actually had better results than previous years being in Dubuque,” said Erica Foster, store manager at Spirit Halloween. “Our sales are at 60-plus percent from a year ago, so that’s awesome. Normally, we don’t do that well on sales until the end of October.”

Foster said she has chatted with many customers who will not take their kids trick-or-treating this year but instead will get candy from family or just take fun family photos dressed up.

“I think Halloween is a really big family holiday,” she said. “The families are still able to do themed costumes and decorate. I think just being able to do at-home family activities means that you are not traveling around.”

Spirit Halloween’s most-popular costumes this year include Chucky from the horror film “Child’s Play,” Freddy Krueger from “Nightmare on Elm Street” and Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th.” Superheroes are also popular.

In Galena, Ill., Honest John’s Trading Post store manager Dana Meadows said he wasn’t sure what to expect this year after the city canceled its annual Halloween parade. But with many families opting not to travel due to the virus, Halloween decorations are selling quickly.

“We’ve been doing quite well,” he said. “We’ve been fortunate that most in Illinois are not going to Europe or on cruises. We’ve been fortunate that they come here.”

Meadows said his store sells some Halloween decorations, but he cut down on his inventory of festive accessories because he didn’t know how popular the holiday would be.

“We don’t have as much stuff as we did last year because a lot of our stuff comes in August, and not knowing how we would do, I cut back knowing we wouldn’t have the parade,” Meadows said.

Jennifer Belland, produce manager at Piggly Wiggly in Lancaster, Wis., said her store put out its pumpkin displays in the middle of September.

“They were kind of slow at first, but now they are doing pretty well,” she said.

Chris Kirk, store manager of Dollar General on West Locust Street in Dubuque, said Halloween decorations such as plastic spiders and cobwebs, as well as costumes, were added to the shelves at the end of August and are pretty much gone.

“We probably still have some of everything, but it is pretty condensed down,” she said.

Fleece and other warm and fuzzy materials have been in high demand this season at Joann fabrics and crafts store in Dubuque as shoppers pick out patterns and fabrics for Halloween costumes, store manager Niki Vondal said.

“We have a lot of Halloween decor that we put out the last week of August, and we sold more than half of it within the first two weeks,” she said.

Vondal said many shoppers from area cities have stopped in to buy fabric for Halloween costumes or decorations but have left disappointed because the store already sold out.

“We have made our forecasted sales every week except for three weeks this year,” she said. “In August and September, sales were up more than $10,000.”

When customers ask Vondal if she is ready for Black Friday, she replies that every day feels like the annual post-Thanksgiving shopping day.

“It’s like Black Friday every single week,” she said. “It’s been a good year despite the pandemic. I think it is just because people think that with the pandemic, we want to remember Halloween is still there. I think people are getting more excited for it.”