The guillotine is the first thing one notices in the front yard, but it's hardly the only clue that Halloween fans live in the house.
A pair of neighbors on Foster Avenue in Schenectady are engaged in a friendly competition to see who can build the best display for the October holiday, with spider webs and big glowing monster eyes competing with the guillotine for attention.
Much of what they’re installing in their yards is homemade, but store-bought Halloween costumes, decorations and refreshments are big business.
The National Retail Federation predicts that Americans will spend $9.1 billion on Halloween this year. That’s 8.3 percent more than was spent in 2016, which itself was a record.
Michael Marra, one of the Foster Avenue residents, said he’ll purchase some mechanical items for the displays, but not a lot else.
“A lot of what we’re doing is homemade stuff,” he said.
And much of the process is driven by his six daughters, ages 6 to 13.
“The older ones, they come up with a lot of the ideas,” Marra said.
“Every year we decorate a little bit,” he added. “It’s kind of the second year we got into it a lot.”
Across the street, a neighbor is doing the same thing, turning the end of Foster Avenue near Alexander Street into a fun Halloween zone. And it may be kicked up a notch next year, Marra said.
“We’re hoping that if everything works out, we’re going to do a little haunted house for the kids,” he said.
Marra said he gets some good feedback on the decorations.
“Every day we’re out here, someone’s always saying they like it. Then they’ll cross the street and see what they’ve got going on.”
A local leader in the store-bought Halloween marketplace is The Costumer, but it too has a big emphasis on do-it-yourself.
Shoppers can buy a premade costume or mask, or they can create their own with makeup, props and accessories for sale at The Costumer.
Erik Johnsen, who became the fourth owner of the century-old business a year ago, said he’s doing a steady costume business.
“So far it’s going well here in the early days,” he said. “I wish the weather was feeling a little more like autumn and motivate people to come in.”
The popular costumes this year, as most years, are superhero outfits, thanks in part to Hollywood and advertisements.
“Girl Power” is a popular subcategory, with Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn outfits in demand.
Clowns, creepy or not, also are a frequent request.
“There’s a lot of talk about the clown phenomenon,” Johnsen said. “We’re seeing clowns being a little more popular this year even than last year.”
The Costumer has two locations, each with a specialty.
Barrett Street in Schenectady has 100,000 theatrical costumes for rent, about 30,000 of which will go out to productions nationwide each year.
The Central Avenue location in Colonie is a costume superstore for parties and special events, both for walk-in retail sales/rentals and Internet/catalog sales. There’s a wide selection of factory-made costumes ranging from sexy-but-deadly ninja to big bad wolf, and a price range just as wide. But a specialty of the Costumer is enabling imagination and experimentation.
“What we are expert in and what we are seeing a lot of is people coming in and wanting to do it yourself,” Johnsen said.
“We’re kind of a natural to help people build from the ground up.”
As important as the merchandise is the staff helping advise shoppers on how to put it all together, Johnsen said.
“We try to pride ourselves on having a staff,” he said. They’re a diverse lot, including theater enthusiasts and professional makeup artists, but they all have an interest in costumery.
“The passion is the thing,” he said. “That’s the common denominator.”
The Costumer will have complete outfits and do-it-yourself components right up through Halloween, but selection will dwindle and crowds will grow as Oct. 31 approaches, Johnsen said.
The retail forecast
The National Retail Federation predicts Americans will spend a record $9.1 billion on Halloween merchandise and celebrations in 2017. Here are some tidbits from its report, which was gleaned from a September survey:
- Americans planning to celebrate: 179 million, up from 171 million in 2016
- Top costumes for children: Action superhero, Batman character, princess, animal, Spiderman, Star Wars character
- Top costumes for adults: Witch, Batman character, animal, pirate, Marvel superhero
- Top costumes for pets: Pumpkin, hot dog, lion, pirate, dog, bumble bee, devil
- Top shopping destinations: Discount store (47%); Halloween store (38%); grocery store (25%); department store (24%); online (22%)
- Planned purchases: Candy (95%); decorations (72%); costumes (69%); greeting cards (37%)
- Planned spending: Costumes ($3.4 billion); candy ($2.7 billion); decorations ($2.7 billion); greeting cards ($410 million)
- Planned activities: Handing out candy (71%); decorating (49%); wearing costumes (48%); carving a pumpkin (46%); throwing or attending a party (35%); taking children trick-or-treating (31%); visiting a haunted house (23%); dressing pets in costumes (16%)
- Costume inspiration sources: Online (35%); stores (30%); friends and family (20%); Facebook or Pinterest (18%); pop culture (17%); and print media (14%)
SOURCE: NRF ANNUAL HALLOWEEN SPENDING SURVEY