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Going small for Halloween: Sweet for some retailers, scary for others

That cancellation of large parties this year because

That cancellation of large parties this year because of COVID-19 has reduced Costume America's Halloween sales by 50%, says owner Laura Keenan.   Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Halloween will be dressed up differently this year.

The number of trick-or-treaters might decline, amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, but Long Islanders’ alternative plans to celebrate Halloween are scaring up strong, even record-breaking, sales of candy, pumpkins and other merchandise tied to the holiday, retailers said.

"It’s slammed. We’re very busy," said Lisa Hodes, owner of Sweeties Candy Cottage in Huntington. The specialty candy store is having its best Halloween season in the 15 years that Hodes has owned the business, she said.

Halloween sales are going strong as many consumers plan to forgo large public Halloween parties and trick-or-treating in favor of small home gatherings and arts and crafts activities with kids, such as carving pumpkins, retail experts and local stores said.

Nationwide, sales of Halloween chocolate and candy are up 8.6% compared with the same period last year, according to the National Confectioners Association, a trade group based in Washington, D.C.

While Sweeties Candy Cottage sells popular, mass-market candy, such as Skittles and Snickers, its focus is on gift baskets and unique sweets, such as a new, popular item, the Smashing Skull, Hodes said. The candy-filled chocolate skull comes with a mallet that kids can use to smash their way to sweet reward, she said.

The pandemic leading to cancellations of large Halloween events has prompted her customers to think smaller, Hodes said.

"I think we’ve been very busy because parents, grandparents, friends — they want their kids to enjoy Halloween but not in the traditional way," she said.

Of the more than 148 million adults celebrating Halloween this year, 23% have children that will trick-or-treat, compared with 29% last year, according to a survey of 7,644 consumers conducted in September by the National Retail Federation, a trade group in Washington, D.C.

Huntington Station resident Tania White, 42, is not going to let her 12-year-old son trick-or-treat Saturday, nor is she giving out candy, she said Tuesday afternoon while in a Target in Huntington Station looking for decorations to make a haunted house at home for her son and his cousins.

"We’re basically having a little family get-together," she said.

North Amityville resident Raven Carter, 42, will let her two sons, 4 and 8, trick-or-treat because she and all her neighbors have agreed to leave unattended candy bowls on their front porches Saturday so kids can serve themselves, she said.

"So, I was comfortable because there is no face-to-face and no hand contact," she said while in a Walmart parking lot in Farmingdale on Tuesday. Overall Halloween spending is projected to be $8.05 billion, down slightly from $8.78 billion in 2019, due to less participation, according to the federation. But consumers who are participating will spend more — $92.12 on average compared with $86.27 in 2019 — but in different ways that they would have in the past.

The 32-store King Kullen grocery chain is experiencing double-digit increases in sales of Halloween products in all categories, including candy, said Joseph W. Brown, executive vice president of Bethpage-based King Kullen Grocery Co. Inc.

"Home and party décor are up the highest, which is reflective of the expectation that people will be celebrating close to home and in smaller gatherings. Fresh-baked and prepackaged Halloween cakes, cupcakes and cookies are experiencing the same growth as we get closer to Halloween," he said.

Supermarket chain Stew Leonard’s has sold a record-breaking 250,000 pumpkins this Halloween season — an increase of 11%, said Stew Leonard Jr., president of the Norwalk, Connecticut-based chain of seven stores.

"We cleaned our pumpkin farmer out," said Leonard, who added that the chain's East Meadow store doubled its pumpkin sales this year and its Farmingdale store has sold more pumpkins this season than in the four years it’s been open.

Leonard attributes the sales increase to customers spending more time at home because of the pandemic, so they are engaging in more activities for the family, such as pumpkin carving.

Sales of Halloween candy, pumpkins and decorations are up 40% at Uncle Giuseppe's Marketplace, according to the Farmingdale-based chain of eight high-end grocery stores.

"We’ve seen a large increase in our store-made candy categories. Items such as our candy apples and other dipped treats in our candy department have seen a large increase in volume as our customers are yearning for something different than they would find in a normal supermarket," spokeswoman Jillian Gundy said.

One local business that typically shines on Halloween has seen its lights dim somewhat this year.

Halloween sales are usually the third-biggest business for Costume America, a Farmingdale store that rents out costumes that it can tailor in-house, said Laura Keenan, owner of the 9-year-old business.

Many of the store’s rentals would usually be for big, annual Halloween parties, such as the Sands Point Preserve Conservancy’s Halloween Ball.

That ball and other large events have been canceled this year because of the pandemic, which has reduced Costume America’s Halloween income by 50%, Keenan said.

"We’re renting but it’s very slow," she said.

Her business also has been hurt by the cancellation of school theater. Rentals for school theater usually start right after Halloween and account for the largest share of the store’s revenue, she said. Costume America might have to reduce its hours of operation, or even close after Christmas, Keenan said.

"I don’t know. It’s a crapshoot," she said.

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