Roger's Gardens goes ghoulish

Just after 7 a.m. Wednesday, rather than drive to the Orange County mortuary where he works, Mark Trask pulled into the Roger's Gardens parking lot.

It was opening day of the Halloween display hosted annually by the long-established Corona del Mar home and garden store, and Trask hoped to be first inside.

Among the wares on sale: wobble eyeballs, fake syringes and decorative pumpkins.

"They go pretty quick," he said of the spooky items.

Staff opened the gates at 9 a.m., guiding the early bird shoppers to an entrance cut from a giant gray-scale replica of Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream."

About 20,000 people had received invitations to attend the private opening of the boutique on Wednesday or Thursday, said Nava Rezvan, Roger's Gardens marketing manager.

The display will be open to the public beginning Friday.

Trask, of Huntington Beach, has attended the exhibition with his wife, Sharron, for the past seven or eight years. They saved up to buy a more unique piece at the show this year, he said, but she was busy Wednesday helping with autopsies at the Orange County coroner's office.

"It's something that we plan for and look forward to every year," he said.

The display was divided into four unique rooms, including the Witching Hour and Mad Inventors areas, said Eric Cortina, creative director for the boutique.

An "art gallery" between the rooms also displayed items solicited from artists.

For Cortine, the arrangement of merchandise demands as much attention as their selection.

Development of the concepts for the display began a year and a half ago, Cortina said.

"We're just looking for unique quality and something that kind of inspires our customers," he said.

In the Cabinet of Curiosities, one woman strolled by with light-up eyeballs in her wire basket, as another browsed while carrying a selection of bug-themed items, such as a framed spider suspended in gauzy cotton.

"I just love Halloween so much," said Lisa Bulber, of Long Beach, who planned to buy a beaded, skull-shaped purse, an umbrella painted with skulls and — maybe — skull-lined wide ribbon.

Bulber, who works for Disney, dressed for the occasion in a shirt made of skull-print fabric. She also wore a skull ring.

She had stood third in line Wednesday morning — her fifth annual trip to the show — waiting for the store to open.

Entering the Day of the Dead room, Bulber held a skull mask up to her face to show several people she had met while waiting and browsing.

"This is so cool, like Masquerade!" she exclaimed, the upper portion of her face blocked by fake bones.

Richard Rodriguez, an employee with the Orange County coroner's office for more than 30 years, his wife, and retired deputy coroner Maureen Albrecht collectively agreed.

"Ooh," they said.

Albrecht, who arrived in a hearse to her Anaheim wedding on Halloween day 26 years ago, drove more than two hours to browse the Roger's Gardens selection, she said.

The store will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year when its Christmas show begins Oct. 4.

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