Halloween business can be a scary time

For those who like a mystery this Halloween, here's one: Some stores say Halloween sales are up, while some say they are down. The holiday doesn't compare with Christmas for sheer dollar volume, of course — it's only eighth, because there are no gifts — but it does set the stage for the hugely important holiday season.

There is quite a bit of worry this year among retailers over the upcoming season because of the recession and the accompanying drop in consumer confidence.

The National Retail Federation surveyed people in September and found that fewer people would participate in Halloween, and those who do will spend less. Thirty percent said the recession will affect their spending.

"What we're hearing and seeing is that this year many will find less-expensive ways to celebrate instead of cutting it out altogether," said Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman for the federation. "It's the economy. People don't want to blow all of their discretionary spending on a costume or candy."

Kay Hettenbach, who has owned Kay's This N' That for 36 years said her sales are down about 25 percent this year.

The economy is bad, she said, and having West Street torn up makes it worse. Her shop is at Second and Anna, three blocks north of Towne West Square.

"I wouldn't say I'm struggling, but I'm stressed, for sure," she said.

She runs her shop year-round. Anything that doesn't sell for Halloween stays on the shelves. The big movers this year, she said, are Michael Jackson, vampires and sexy costumes for women.

"This girl came in yesterday and picked out one of these costumes and said 'If you were my mother, would you let me buy this?' " Hettenbach said.

"We said 'No,' but she bought it anyway. Maybe that's why she bought it."

On the other hand

Some costume shops say the cost of Halloween is relatively light, so families don't feel bad about spending.

Even the big spenders, young adults, plan to spend an average of just $68, down from $87 in 2008, the NRF survey showed.

Tami Mayers and Chris Stafford of Fresno, Calif., manage the Spirit store in the former CompUSA space on North Rock Road for two months. This is their fourth year with a shop in Wichita.

Stafford estimated they are 10 percent ahead of last year at the North Rock Road store.

Members of her family run Spirit stores in Fresno and Sacramento, Calif., where unemployment is far higher than in Wichita, she said, and their stores are also doing great.

"People aren't going to make their kids go without," Mayers said. "They'll sometimes spend more than they should so that they can make their kids happy."

They didn't do well at a 13th and Tyler Road location two years ago and decided against opening a west-side location, but next year they are expecting to open three stores.

In the middle

Somewhere in the middle is Halloween Express, which has a location at Eastgate Shopping Center, at Kellogg and Rock Road, and one on West Kellogg, near Dugan.

Franchise owner Mike Howard said the east location is down a bit. Construction at Kellogg and Rock Road may play a part in it, he said, but he thinks it's because he found a better location for his west store. Last year it was in the former Harley-Davidson location on Kellogg Drive just west of Ridge Road.

Howard has had the Halloween Express franchise in Wichita for six years. He said he sells for just two months a year but spends most of the other 10 months moving, storing, cataloging, ordering and shipping his merchandise.

Howard, from Sparta, Ky., was a tobacco farmer his whole life, as was his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, until he started talking to the guy who started Halloween Express, who lived nearby.

Running a store is a whole lot different than cutting tobacco, he said. It's more profitable and less strenuous, but in those two months he has to hit it and hit it hard.

"You can tell by my beard that I haven't been able to shave," he said. "I'm barely able to eat properly."