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Halloween and Christmas items sell out as we go all in on decorating

Animation of a cartoon skeleton
Get ready for a retina blowout: Holiday decorations this year are expected to be bigger than ever.
(Super Freak for The Times )

Since coronavirus commandeered our world, we’ve been nesting like crazy, nurturing our sourdough starter, claiming corners of our homes for work or school, and planting victory gardens to feed our stomachs and souls.

So now that summer is yielding to fall, what is the next big obsession of our homebound existence?

Holiday decorations, baby.

Get ready for a retina blowout.

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If early shopping trends are any indication, 2020 is the year we go bonkers on decorating our yards and homes, because we really can’t do much else. Many traditional holiday events and venues are closed due to coronavirus, long-distance travel is dicey, and a visit to grandma’s Thanksgiving table will likely require a two-week family quarantine to make sure we don’t pass more than the turkey and pie.

Labor Day is here, the unofficial end of summer and the time of year we start looking toward holiday festivities. But not this year: Coronavirus concerns are canceling popular Halloween and holiday light shows around Southern California.

We talked to shop owners and retail purchasing managers, and all said sales were skyrocketing.

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The trend started gaining speed in the spring, said Debi Thomas, co-owner of the Traditions holiday store in Canoga Park, which sells holiday decorations year-round. The store closed for a few months during the early days of coronavirus, but its online sales boomed, Thomas said, prompting the store to double its workforce to 15 employees so it could keep up with orders.

Santa with Face Mask ornament
This Santa with Face Mask ornament created by Old World Christmas still hasn’t arrived at the Traditions holiday store in Canoga Park, but it already has hundreds of waitlist requests.
(Traditions)

“What we’re seeing is people are incredibly excited about the holidays,” Thomas said. “July and August [sales] have been like October, November and December, so we can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like at the end of the year. We’re all working double hours and effort, and it’s fabulous.”

Especially popular with customers? Traditions’ ”Santa With a Face Mask” glass and glitter ornament for $21.99 isn’t available for delivery yet but it’s on the website and already has a waitlist of 442 people.

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“That’s a ridiculous number of requests, just ridiculously high,” Thomas said.

The staff at Traditions in Canoga Park gather to show off a popular new product: Halloween-themed face masks.
The staff at Traditions, a holiday decor shop in Canoga Park, gather to show off their popular new product: Halloween-themed face masks. At left is owner Debi Thomas, standing behind her mohter, Barbara: The pair started the business 27 years ago.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Even Traditions’ specially made “Protective Halloween Masks” have been “flying out the door,” Thomas said. The $22 masks feature grinning jack-o'-lanterns on a black background, made to Thomas’ specifications out of vintage Halloween fabric.

Price doesn’t seem to be an issue, Thomas said. “It’s funny because we are definitely a disposable income business, but for some reason our customers are finding the income to buy.”

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On Home Depot’s website, a nearly 6-foot-tall “Animated Giant Dragon in Grey Without Fog Machine,” (available online only for $399, fog machine an additional $70) sold out in July, as did its 12-foot “Giant Sized Skeleton With (very creepy) LifeEyes” for $299.

Home Depot's 69-inch-tall animated dragon was available only online, for $399, and sold out in July.
Home Depot’s 69-inch-tall animated dragon was available only online, for $399, and sold out in July.
(Home Depot)

In early March when the pandemic closed the economy down, commercials director Raúl B. Fernández used the free time to build his wife a pair of planter boxes. Then requests started coming in.

Lance Allen, merchant of decorative holiday merchandise for Home Depot stores, said the chain was expecting a busy holiday season in 2020 because Halloween falls on a Saturday, and presidential election years seem to boost decoration sales. But it wasn’t prepared for the ‘ coronavirus effect,’ where people fed up with being home are pouring the money they would have spent on vacations or concerts into decorating their yards.

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“We’ve seen interest ramp up year after year, but this year it’s off the charts from what we’ve seen before,” Allen said. “We’re already seeing indications of strong Christmas tree and Christmas light sales online. People aren’t just buying early, they’re buying bigger than ever. We think we’re going to see some competition this year, because people are home with more time on their hands, so they can go way big on decorations.”

With uncertainty about coronavirus surging in the colder months, Allen expects people will retreat to where they feel safest — their homes and their cars, which means they’ll be more likely to drive around looking at lights to entertain themselves since many public displays have been canceled.

“People feel safe decorating their yards,” he said, “This way, you can drive around to see your neighbor’s displays, and they can come see yours.”

Hedda Staines, head of purchasing for Roger’s Gardens’ popular Halloween and Christmas stores, is seeing the “coronavirus effect” play out in her own home.

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“My daughter is already planning what she wants to do this year; she wants to decorate her bedroom,” Staines said. “Since she can’t go trick-or-treating, she wants to bring it all into her bedroom.”

While Roger’s Gardens has canceled holiday events such as caroling and visits with Santa, the Corona del Mar nursery did go ahead with its traditional Halloween Boutique, which opened to the public Friday. It expanded the store to make it easier for people to stay six feet apart, said Staines and added lots of rules about wearing masks, limiting the number of shoppers and enforcing a one-way route that will prohibit people from backtracking to look at merchandise they passed.

“If you want to go back,” Staines said, “you’ll have to go out the exit and come back in the front door.”

Customer response has been positive, said store spokeswoman Nava Rezvan. “They’re thrilled to hear we’re still doing it and curious how we’re going to do it to keep everyone safe.”

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The store always has a theme, which this year is “A Pirate’s Life for Me.”

“It starts with a ship’s deck and then you go underwater to Davy Jones’ locker, where things are more ominous,” said Eric Cortina, head of specialty stores. “Think octopus tentacles, sharks, caverns and treasure.”

Roger's Gardens' Halloween Boutique has a nautical/underwater theme with pirates, sharks, octopus tentacles and treasure.
This year’s Halloween Boutique at Roger’s Gardens has a Davy Jones/underwater theme.
(Bimi Fafowara)

Unlike many Halloween stores, Roger’s Gardens’ merchandise is light on the gore and heavy on fantasy, with specially made one-of-a-kind objects that relate to the theme as well as more traditional items, lavishly decorated pumpkins and skulls, and grimacing candlesticks.

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This year, all the boutique merchandise will be available online, Rezvan said but don’t count on being able to buy those one-of-a-kind objects; those usually sell out immediately to the store’s big spenders who got early admission the weekend before. Once they’re sold however, the unique items will still be on display until shortly before Halloween.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children ages 2 and older wear a face mask when in public or around people who don’t live with them.

“People come to the store to be inspired,” Staines said. “This is usually a holiday where you go out, but speaking as a parent, my daughter won’t be trick-or-treating this year. People will probably be operating within their coronavirus bubble, maybe with extended family or two or three other families they feel safe with. But I think maybe people will be bringing Halloween home this year. People will be more inclined to beautify and decorate their homes because they’ll be spending more time at home than normal.”

And our pandemic holiday might have a silver lining for some local shops, said CeeAnn Thiel, owner of Mrs. Tiggy Winkles gift shop in Riverside, a 46-year-old must-visit store filled with one-of-a-kind items near the Mission Inn. Thiel said people starting asking in June when she would be putting out her Halloween items.

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“I usually put them out September-ish, but I started putting things out in August because people seem to really be looking forward to it more this year,” she said.

The cancellation of the city’s Festival of Lights activities is a blessing for her little store, Thiel said. The crowds are usually so big it has to limit the number of people who can enter the store at one time and monitor the doors. The Mission Inn will still have some lights but will skip the events that draw the huge crowds.

“This year it will just be Riverside people, serious shopping people, not so many out-of-town people, which causes chaos,” she said. “The shopkeepers will like it better. Maybe it will be more like the community coming together.”

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