Three trips to the store and $600 later, Balboa Island resident Peggy Rich has finally stockpiled her Halloween candy supply.
Plastic containers in Rich’s living room are brimming with 2,900 packages of candy corn, fun dip and sugary bracelets. It’s 200 more pieces than were in last year’s stash of sweets, which ran out by 9:30 p.m.
In an era in which kids commonly trek beyond their neighborhoods in search of the most bountiful candy bowls, island residents are convinced the trick-or-treaters must arrive here by the busload.
In many ways, Balboa Island is nearly perfect for maximized candy gathering.
A sidewalk loops the island’s roughly two-mile circumference like a track. Beach cottages are nearly wall-to-wall on small lots — cutting down on the number of steps between front doors — and unlike the gated mansions elsewhere in Newport Beach, most homes are protected by nothing more than a white picket fence.
Though the days of homemade treats seem long gone, the island preserves the door-to-door tradition in the face of shopping malls that offer safe trick-or-treating alternatives.
Costumed children come from Newport Coast, where homes are spread too far apart in hilly areas to collect much loot, or from nearby cities such as Irvine, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana, residents said.
Denna Majerovic of Corona del Mar has brought her 4-year-old daughter every year, braving the crowds with a stroller.
“It sets itself apart from anywhere else,” she said. “You get the feel of a small town.”
The islanders like to play host. The wealthy, friendly residents go all-out on decor for a number of holidays. Compared with the days-long bonanza of the Christmas Boat Parade, one night of trick-or-treating is nothing to fear.
Ralph Rodheim, an island resident and a past president of the Balboa Island Improvement Assn., said new residents are quickly indoctrinated on Halloween expectations.
“You decorate, and your neighbors decorate, and therefore the new person is probably going to have to decorate too.”
Though some homes are rented for part or all of the year, the island boasts a tight-knit community. Residents periodically gather for pancake breakfasts. Every June, they host a parade.
Extending a welcome to visiting children is an expected part of Halloween, a sort of “good neighbor policy,” as resident Mary Olsen put it.
“I’m not sure where they all come from, but everybody just seems to be having a good time,” said Councilman Ed Selich, who represents the area. “I’ve never heard one complaint.”
Rich is one of those who threw herself into the holiday. Three weeks ago, a maintenance crew helped cover her home with a small village of witches, scarecrows and spiders. An outsized ghoul hovers from the end of her pier, and ghosts circle on a contraption on the roof.
An eager trick-or-treater was already wandering the neighborhood Wednesday night and plain-clothed passersby stopped to soak in the sinister atmosphere. “That freaked me out!” a 5-year-old boy shrieked, running from a growling zombie.
The local landmark homes have dressed up too: at the teddy bear house, the plush animals lining the windows wear orange hats and pumpkin suits. The Balboa Island dinosaur statue, which stands among the greenery in a North Bay Front yard, holds a dismembered leg in its sharp teeth.
“That’s Balboa Island, everyone kind of goes crazy,” said Gary Pugh, whose home has been transformed into a den of horror known as the Balboa Island Medical Clinic and Butcher.
Patio furniture has been replaced by nurse and doctor skeletons that dangle behind a table, where they chop at a bloodied body. A chalkboard menu lists prices: eyeballs (2 for $6), a brain (usually $10 but on sale for $0.50) and arms “cut fresh today” ($10 each or 2 for $15).
For the less adventurous eaters, Hershey’s candy also awaits.