In spooky economic times, does Nicole Amaya, a college student who also works as a ticket agent at JFK Airport in New York City, really need the $200 worth of Halloween party supplies she's holding in two plastic bags? "No," says Amaya, 20, who just purchased a fog machine, black lights and spider-web decorations from Spirit Halloween, a specialty retailer. Amaya, who is throwing a bash with a friend, adds, "Honestly, it's hurting my wallet." So why suck the blood out of your finances? "With jobs and school, everyone is so tense," says Amaya, who lives on Long Island. "It's our a chance to step out of our element and go crazy a little bit. I've been working my ass off. It's my one day to go all-in."
Despite the recession, Halloween is hotter than ever. According to IBISWorld, a market-research firm, Halloween sales will reach a record-breaking $6 billion in 2009, up 4.2% from last year. Retailers from Biloxi, Miss., to Brooklyn, N.Y., are reporting strong Halloween revenue. Over the past four years alone, the Halloween industry which includes costumes, candy, decorations and greeting cards has grown a remarkable 48.5%. The holiday even broke sales records in 2008, when the economy was a real horror show. "A year ago, Halloween was all about escaping a crisis," says Toon van Beeck, a senior analyst for IBISWorld. "This year, it's more about a celebration. It's a mood booster."
Plus, some traditions are sacred. "Everywhere you spend less because you make less," says Sophia Soloway, 24, a former personal shopper who is now studying journalism at New York University. "But I'm still going to get my costume. Halloween is my favorite holiday." Soloway is going to a party as a corpse's bride. Cost: $100.
Halloween's resilience in the face of a recession would seem to make some sense. It's relatively cheap fun, and parents aren't about to steal candy from their babies by grounding trick-or-treating. The kiddies, however, aren't driving the growth. "Sales of adult items are surprisingly strong," says Nick Pardasani, CEO of costumes4less.com, an online retailer. "Children's costumes used to dominate. Now it's about half and half." Pardasani says his sales are up 40% this year. Michael Jackson, Bernie Madoff and Kate Gosselin outfits are flying off the shelves, according to Spirit Halloween.
Why is Halloween so hip with retail's favorite demographic, the 18-to-34 set? Start with the escape factor. Grownups yearn to be sexy nurses and rock stars. Halloween gives them license to live out that fantasy, at least for one night. Plus, nostalgia plays a role. "When I was small, we all dressed up to trick-or-treat," says Amaya. "Then as a teenager, costumes weren't cool. You wanted to do the shaving-cream thing. Now I want to dress up as if I were a kid again. It's weird."
And give the calendar full credit. Halloween falls on a Saturday this year, purging all fear of a desk-side hangover. "That's a huge reason why we're throwing the party," says Amaya. "Let's just do it up." Recession-style, however: "Don't get me wrong, I'll be charging $5 at the door," says Amaya. "I need to get something back."