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Costume, Candy Makers Flourish : A Treat for Retailers as More Grown-Ups Get In on the Fun of Halloween

Times Staff Writer

Kristie Hardy raced into the Draculas Castle store in Torrance, searching for a costume for a special Halloween cruise in the Bahamas. As she pulled on a pair of baggy, purple-and-green plaid clown overalls, she grinned.

“I could wear my big green Larry Bird shoes with this!” she exclaimed as she inspected costumes at the shop devoted exclusively to Halloween. “I was at a basketball game in Boston when he threw them into the crowd and I caught them.”

No longer willing to stand by the night of Oct. 31 while the kids don Halloween costumes and bob for apples and go door to door shouting “trick-or-treat,” adults are adopting Halloween as their own holiday. Candy makers, card companies, novelty and costume makers are among those reaping the profits.

National Party

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In the past three years, the number of adult Halloween parties has increased 25%, making Halloween second only to New Year’s Eve for adult party-giving, according to research by Hallmark Cards. Hallmark also estimates that Americans will spend about $350 million this week on Halloween costumes and accessories.

“Halloween is sort of like a national Mardi Gras,” said Shelley Grossman, spokeswoman for the National Candy Wholesaler’s Assn.

It is no surprise that Halloween also represents the biggest sales period for Hershey Foods, the nation’s biggest candy maker. Hershey spokesman Carl Andrews said Halloween sales are mixed in with back-to-school candy sales, surpassing both Easter and Valentine’s Day.

A recent survey commissioned by the candy industry found that 93% of the nation’s households with children under 12 will be passing out treats Monday evening. Overall, 80% of American households said they will open their doors and give candy away, the Opinion Research Corp. survey found.

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While most youngsters focus on the goodies, grown-ups are more concerned with finding the perfect Halloween costume.

Kristie Hardy in her clown suit was one of several adult customers browsing this week in Draculas Castle, one of three Halloween-only stores opened this fall by South Bay pharmacists Greg Alston and John Martin.

On Sept. 9, the pair transformed empty storefronts in Torrance, Rancho Palos Verdes and Hermosa Beach into Halloween meccas packed with 2,000 costumes and hundreds of zany wigs, giant cigars, makeup kits, clown noses and masks. Alston and Martin, co-owners of Camelot Drug in Lomita, also filled their drug store with Halloween paraphernalia.

“I used to be the seasonal buyer for Sav-on drugs and I could never talk them into doing anything like this,” said Alston, who was wearing a “Dracula Sucks” button on his shirt while waiting on customers.

Although they had discussed the idea of opening the Halloween stores for years, this is the first time they actually did it. The pair spent about $300,000 to buy truckloads of Halloween merchandise, banking on the fact that Halloween has become a major retail holiday. On the day after, these Draculas Castles are to return to being empty storefronts.

Night to Be ‘Crazy’

“There has been an incredible growth in the Halloween business in the past six or seven years,” said Alston, who plans to transform himself into Groucho Marx on Monday night. “One night a year, you get to be crazy.” Alston buys most of his costumes from California Costume, a division of Collars N’ Cuffs, a Los Angeles women’s sportswear manufacturer.

“Nobody really knows how deep the Halloween industry can go,” said Mark Leslie, vice president of California Costume. Based on the popularity of the 180 styles his company shipped this year, Leslie said California Costume plans to offer 475 different styles for Halloween 1989.

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He said adults will buy about half of the nearly 1 million costumes manufactured by California Costume this year. To meet the demand, the company employed hundreds of extra workers in 42 locations throughout Los Angeles’ downtown garment district. The privately held company does not release sales figures.

“Women’s costumes always outsell the men’s,” said Leslie. “Most guys go to a Halloween party at the end of a 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun.”

A random survey of costume shops revealed that Freddy, the ghoulish character from the movie “Nightmare on Elm Street” is the No. 1-selling costume for men and boys. Freddy’s glove features razor-sharp claws and sells for about $16. The total outfit, including Freddy’s sweater, pock-marked latex face mask and clawed glove, costs about $70.

Although more parents are dressing up, kids are still the principal focus of Halloween spending. Brides, fairy princesses and Cinderellas top the request list for little girls shopping at Costumes for Kids on Melrose Avenue, according to manager Zoe Gonzalez.

Older girls favor the 1950-style “poodle skirts” to wear with sweaters and saddle shoes. And, this week, Gonzalez said boys are buying cowboy, knight, lion and dinosaur costumes.

2,000 Pairs of Shoes

Meanwhile, theaters in greater Los Angeles are finding Halloween an excellent way to cash in on their ample costume closets. After 41 years of productions, the Glendale Centre Theatre’s Costume Shoppe is offering its wares for rental to the public, as well as to television productions and movies.

In stock are more than 55,000 costumes ranging from the ancient to the contemporary. All told, the shop has 2,000 pairs of shoes, boots and sandals, and over 1,000 hats, caps and helmets.

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The Center Theatre Group’s Costume Shop in East Los Angeles is also offering to rent its collection of 30,000 theater and film costumes to the public. Costume director Maribeth Hite said this is the first Halloween that the Center Theatre shop, affiliated with the Ahmanson and Mark Taper Theatres, has done this.

And what does the costume director, who could--after all--create just about any costume she wanted, have in mind for her daughter? Almost a bit embarrassed, Hite admitted that her daughter Emily insisted on being a plain old skeleton.

“Halloween is bigger than Christmas for her,” said Hite. “She doesn’t get to wear a costume at Christmas.”


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