Yesterday, this happened.
OK, so this isn’t news. I do this every single year as part of the Phase I ritual. Except it’s not exactly Phase I yet…
Nevertheless, let me set the scene for you.
As I walked through the door – masked up of course – I was greeted by the following scene: The Munsters theme song was playing. Near the door, a lifesize animatronic Sam from Trick R Treat was lurching around. An employee was hanging plastic skeletons on a display wall. A young girl was sneaking up behind her older brother with a gigantic hairy spider.
My breath literally caught in my throat for a moment. Halloween is here.
As I said, I usually reserve this kind of talk for September 1st (the start of Halloween season), but this scene was too special not to report.
Spirit stores have always been an important part of The Season for me since discovering them some 20-odd years ago. I still remember the very first one I went to. It was a pretty chintzy affair. Most product was in nondescript wire bins, and there wasn’t quite enough to fill the retail space they were temporarily occupying. Also, everything was so overpriced I wasn’t allowed to buy anything. But still, it was a Halloween store! That meant something.
Over time their operation got more professional. The prices are still too high but the quality and selection of product has improved a lot. Their stores now have annual themes and guidelines for attractive displays. This year, they’ve gone big on merchandise from Trick R Treat, which is fantastic, and IT, which is… fine. A lifesize Pennywise was standing right next to Sam when I walked in.
But the best part about being in a Spirit store isn’t even buying stuff – it’s the feeling of being immersed in a little microcosm of Halloween itself. It’s common to see children with clearly rattled nerves walking around in there. Sometimes their courage breaks entirely and you see parents carrying them out crying. It’s pretty rare for a commercial store to be a rite of passage.
Competitors in this space are also rare. For a brief time, there was a store called Halloween Express with a few locations in Phoenix, including one that had its own full-blown haunted attraction attached, which eventually became a 13th Floor. But they vanished after a couple of years. The company still exists but it’s mostly online.
There’s also Halloween City, which is just Party City’s seasonal Halloween department spun off into its own store. You won’t find anything there that you can’t get at a regular Party City, but it’s cool that they open these anyway, and it’s good to feel like there’s a Spirit alternative.
There was an absolutely cruel and pointless hoax somebody created online a few months ago appearing to announce that Spirit wasn’t opening any retail stores this year because of you-know-what. I hope that person gets a really bad canker sore. Luckily it was just a hoax. Next time I walk into a Spirit (masked, socially distanced), it’ll be Halloween Season proper.