By Jill Draper
By mid-October the customer flow at Spirit Halloween transitions from a small trickle to a large roar—at least that’s how it seems to Holli Root, store manager. The weekend before Halloween is the craziest. Crowds pour in to purchase what’s left of the hundreds of costumes, wigs, hats and room decorations that are offered for two months before the season ends in November.
The location changes depending on available vacant property. This year the south Kansas City spot is in the old Gordmans department store at the southeast corner of 135th Street and Highway 150. Root, who owns two non-related businesses with her husband, says the Spirit Halloween job is just for fun. She cheerfully greets customers and directs them to the aisle of their choice.
Batman, Moana and Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” are popular costumes for children, while creepy clowns, characters from Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and Wonder Woman are trending for adults. But that’s just a sampling.
Root points out the tried-and-true witches and goblins section, an entire wall filled with steampunk gear and a humor aisle for those who want to present as a cheeseburger, taco or pickle. There are plenty of create-your-own costume opportunities with a wide array of masks, hats, wigs, ears, tails and makeup kits.
If you want to be a wizard, ’70s man, blonde surfer or unicorn, they’ve got you covered. A rack of hair spray displays all colors of the rainbow, fake blood can be purchased by the tube or by the jug, and emoji fans can choose between a puppy dog face or a poop face.
Root, herself, will be dressing up as a jailbird in handcuffs to coordinate with her daughter’s police officer outfit. “She picks out my costume every year,” she explains. But the fun is not limited to Halloween. Already this fall her family has attended the Kansas City Renaissance Festival’s Buccaneer Fest in full pirate garb, and customers sometimes wander in to buy clothes or accessories for a themed wedding (western, the Roaring Twenties or the ’50s) or a Clue-inspired murder mystery party.
Houses and yards are not left out. Root shows off a display of fog machines, high voltage “live” wires, levitating manikins and a three-toed animatronic alien under an orange biohazard blanket that sits up when a foot pad is pressed. Customers are welcome to try out the special effects and try on the costumes in a dressing room. “We make it very interactive here,” she says.
The Spirit Halloween chain was begun by Joseph Marver in the early 1980s. When he noticed potential customers bypassing his San Francisco-area dress store for a costume shop, he put his merchandise in temporary storage and began selling his own wigs, makeup and costumes. The idea took off, and Marver was managing 63 seasonal stores along the West Coast by the time he sold the business to Spencer Gifts in 1999. Now there are 1,300 stores throughout North America.
A charity program offered by Spirit Halloween is Spirit of Children. If customers choose, they can round up their total purchase to the nearest dollar or make a separate donation. All the money goes to Children’s Mercy Hospital for toys, art, music, computers and pet therapy—things to make the hospital experience less scary for kids and their families.
On its website, Spirit says it can make spaces as large as 50,000 square feet and as small as 3,000 square feet work for its needs. Root’s store is somewhere in the middle, although it seems larger.
“We have enough space so the parents and adults can get right in there, too,” she says. “Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you have to grow up.”