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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Pricey decorations for Halloween gain popularity

By Annie Groer
Washington Post

This Halloween, Neiman Marcus is selling a $74 coffin that opens to reveal an assortment of treats, from biscotti and malted milk balls to hot chocolate. It is one example of purveyors of luxury items vying for a share of holiday sales.

Photos by Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

The scariest thing about Halloween 2002 may be the profusion of large, often expensive, holiday objects for hearth and home.

Time was when the whole skeleton/ghost/black-cat/wicked-witch thing could be quickly and cheaply dispatched at the supermarket or variety store. You'd drop a few bucks on kitschy paper and plastic decorations, add a real pumpkin and some candy. Come Nov. 1, you'd toss it all out, or keep a few favorites in a small box for the next year.

No longer.

Halloween, like Christmas, has become an investment holiday, to be accessorized with heirloom-quality tchotchkes too pricey to pitch and too bulky to store easily the rest of the year.

In 1995, Americans spent around $2.5 billion on Halloween costumes, candy and home decorations. This year, the total is estimated to hit $6.9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. That should average about $44 per household in 2002, according to an NRF survey, although the total jumps to $69 for 18- to 34-year-olds, an age group particularly given to partying.

"Halloween has been shifting from a one-night-out-of-the-year holiday to more of a seasonal celebration for the month of October," said federation spokesman Scott Krugman. "It now happens a lot more as if it were Christmas. More and more adults are rediscovering the holiday through their children."

Or their grandchildren. Or their own inner child.

As a result, high-end stores have joined their down-market brethren to exploit the season of the witch.

From Neiman Marcus to chic cyber-vendor Red Envelope, purveyors of luxury items "looked with envious and lustful eyes at the enormous amounts of merchandise for Halloween that are in drug and variety stores — but not in their stores," said Kurt Barnard, whose Barnard's Retail Consulting Group forecasts industry trends and consumer spending patterns. "So they said, 'Wait a minute. What they do, we can do too,' and suddenly there is enormous competition in the field."

A stroll through Ala Moana Center last week shows the Hawai'i Halloween picture is just as upscale. At Neiman Marcus, for example, a $185 novelty skeleton holds a golden pot with hollow chocolate candy in the shape of a cat and some chocolate pumpkins. A $74 coffin opens to show an assortment of treats, from biscotti and malted milk balls to hot chocolate. And there's the $55 jack-o'-lantern nutcracker and $54 hand-crafted, carved gourd with jack-o'-lantern eyes.

But will they look quite so adorable in May?

Across the mall at William Sonoma is a tangerine-colored KitchenAid mixer, which at $249 will be just as timely at Thanksgiving, especially if you trade in the black spatulas ($4.99 each) for orange and harvest-colored ones. But once you mix up that batch of Halloween treats, cut out cookies with your $6.99 copper cookie cutters (on sale!) and personalize them with a $11.99 cookie decorating kit. The kit holds black and orange frosting tubes, jars of frosting and six choices of sprinkles, in the colors of the day: black for cats, orange for pumpkins and white for skeletons.

Macy's has an array of chocolates, both Godiva and Joseph Schmidt, if you want to go all out for trick-or-treatings. The "autumn collections" range in price from $5-$35.

Online, at www.redenvelope.com, $95 gets you a 39-inch-high outdoor bat house — nocturnal guests are said to help with your mosquito problem — while $55 covers a five-foot, witch-on-a-broom weather vane.

The issue is not only cost, but volume. Where exactly do Halloween devotees stow these over-scaled objects the rest of the year?

Anywhere but indoors, a real estate agent told Laura and Michael Cihra before they put their Washington house up for sale several months ago. An at-home mother of three who adores Halloween, Laura Cihra has amassed seven or eight big boxes of "spooky crap," the largest object being a beanbag toss with haunted house and mummy.

Under orders from the agent, she managed to shift some of the Halloween items from the basement to the garage. With the house now under contract, the decorations — gravestones, witches, cobwebs, ghosts — are making their way to the front lawn.

Several other boxes of props for the annual neighborhood Halloween party she organizes are in a friend's garage.

"My husband is mortified. He jokes that he doesn't live here," said Cihra, 34, who figures she spends "in excess of $300 a year" on decorations, candy and costumes for her family. And still she yearns for a fog machine.

Despite the profit potential, some high-end stores still resist Halloween. "We really don't do novelty tabletop," said Michael Macko, publicity director for Saks Fifth Avenue. "We certainly do make a nod to seasonals: summer hostess gifts and, at holidays, carving sets and such. I think it's a challenge to find novelty that's appropriate to Saks."

But the Islands have no Saks store, so the Hawai'i Kai Costco, without any such pretensions, is the place to go for cut-rate costumes for the keiki. Or the truly price-conscious should check out the J.C. Penney going-out-of-business sale: It's 30 percent off a spooky wreath, ceramic haunted house luminary or talking, hip-tall monster.

Advertiser staff writer Mary Kaye Ritz contributed to this report.