Just one day before Halloween, there’s a bit of a frenzy inside the Halloween Adventure Shop on 4th Avenue. Customers walk in carrying sopping wet umbrellas, and they leave behind their slippery footprints. Inside, they shuffle around the store, some selecting the final touches to their costumes, others still looking for inspiration as they browse the wall of wigs.
These last-minute shoppers are helping keep afloat New York costume stores, which have largely been struggling since the pandemic caused a statewide shutdown in March. For these stores, the month of October is crucial for revenue, and retail workers expressed concern that the coronavirus would dampen costume sales during this year’s spooky season. But many businesses have been pleasantly surprised by an uptick in traffic during the final countdown to Halloween.
“I think people just want to let it out and have some fun,” says Jodi Lewis, a buyer at Halloween Adventure, which brands itself as New York’s biggest year-round costume store. “I think that’s why the surge came at the end—because nobody was sure what they were doing.”
Lewis barely has two minutes to stop and talk before she gets called away by a customer looking for platform shoes. Many of her customers, she tells me, still have no concrete plans for Halloween. “A lot of people literally said they are getting dressed up, and they are going to look out their windows,” Lewis recounts.
That might be because many traditional Halloween events have been cancelled, including the annual Village Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village, the notorious Webster Hell Halloween Party in the East Village. Mayor Bill de Blasio has also emphasized that trick-or-treating should not be done in hallways of apartment buildings. And in a news briefing earlier this week, de Blasio called the latest Covid numbers “worrisome” and urged New Yorkers to avoid big parties.
Still, many events are still finding ways to proceed safely, like the socially distant scavenger hunt at Hudson Yards and safe trick-or-treating at Brooklyn’s Children Museum. Other events, like last weekend’s Tompkins Square Halloween Dog Parade, are going virtual. Even the Village Halloween Parade, though cancelled, is shifting creatively by instead streaming a miniature parade that will feature tiny floats and puppets that pass by iconic NYC buildings.
Whether people are trick-or-treating or staying indoors, the pandemic is also influencing what types of costumes people are buying. Chelsey Staples, a sales associate at Abracadabra Superstore, says ninja costumes with full latex body suits are especially popular this year. She’s also seen more people opt for colored contacts— since the eyes are the one part of the face that is visible— or astronaut suits that include helmets.
“I can’t guarantee the helmets will work as well as [face] masks, but that’s what people are trying to do,” jokes Staples.
If it weren’t for the pandemic, this year’s Halloween could have been a standout one. This year is what Laura Wills dubs a “triple header.” Wills, who owns the long-running vintage fashion and costume store Screaming Mimi’s, explained that this year’s Halloween falls on the night of a blue moon, a full moon and a Saturday. It’s also daylight savings, giving people an extra hour to party.
“If this were not a pandemic year, it would be an incredible, incredible season,” Wills says. “But you know, we are holding our own.”
Wills says she was debating whether to even celebrate Halloween this year. Usually, she transforms the entire Greenwich Village store into a themed Halloween experience with elaborate window displays. After much deliberation, she finally decided to go for it. “We owe it to the customers,” she said.