Halloween canceled? Costume stores and candy makers face scary realities

By Hugo Martín
Los Angeles Times

With less than three months before the annual celebration of all things ghoulish and creepy, many Halloween festivities have either been canceled or will be dramatically altered out of fear of the nation’s biggest terror: COVID-19.

The likely results: A drop in orders for trick-or-treat candies and Halloween costumes and the loss of big crowds at haunted houses.

In short, another financial blow to an economy already weakened by the business closures and double-digit unemployment rates caused by the pandemic.

COVID-19 is putting a scare into the Halloween industry

Halloween is “the holiday that comes second after Christmas as far as spending goes,” said Tom Arnold, a professor of finance at the Robins School of Business at the University of Richmond. “I don’t think it would be wrong to predict that spending gets cut in half, at a minimum.”

Halloween spending in the U.S. was estimated to top $8.8 billion last year, the third-highest amount in the 15-year history of the National Retail Federation’s annual survey. Americans were expected to spend $3.2 billion on costumes, $2.6 billion on candy, $2.7 billion on decorations and $390 million on greeting cards, according to the survey.

The National Confectioners Association, a trade group for the country’s candy makers, said the group has no predictions for candy sales this year because of the uncertainty created by the pandemic. But the group hopes Americans will figure out how to celebrate the holiday in a safe manner.

At Hershey Co., Halloween represents about 10% of the company’s annual sales.

Melissa Poole, Hershey’s vice president of investor relations, said on a recent call with investors that she was hopeful that candy lovers will still treat themselves even if the pandemic precludes going door to door.

“If trick-or-treat tends to be a little lower than expectation, clearly, we will focus even more on the ‘treat for me’ and the candy bowl,” she said.

If retailers suffer heavy losses during the Halloween season, many may launch Christmas promotions early to try to compensate, the University of Richmond’s Arnold said.

That’s not really a saving grace for Halloween-focused businesses such as costume store Spirit Halloween, whose brick-and-mortar stores are open only from late August through early November.

Spirit Halloween and costume-and-festivities retailer Party City — which credited Halloween for one-fifth of its revenue last year — say they will open as usual in hopes that costumes will be in demand this year despite the pandemic.

“It’s been a challenging year, but we promise to keep the Halloween spirit alive,” Spirit Halloween said in a statement.

Some Halloween enthusiasts said they will probably stay home the night of Oct. 31.

“Costume parties will most likely not happen for me this year, sadly,” said Leilani Padilla, a grocery store cashier from Los Angeles who has attended the Halloween festivities at Universal Studios Hollywood annually for the last eight years. “I will probably stay home and watch horror movies all day.”