In Defense of Spirit Halloween

It’s an iron law of life that if there’s an empty storefront in September, it’s a Spirit Halloween by October. An equally strong guarantee: come November 1st, the storefront will be empty once again. What a business model.

Spirit Halloween was founded in 1983 by a San Francisco shop owner named Joseph Marver. When a Halloween pop-up costume shop opened next door to Marver’s own discount apparel store, he kicked into gear and created the first Spirit Halloween. Since then, over 1400 Spirits are in operation every fall, selling costumes, decorations, and candy.

And as soon as Halloween is over, so too is the reign of Spirit Halloween. Seemingly overnight, the Spirit employees pack up all of their unsold Frankenstein costumes and smoke machines, and close up shop. The best part? In just eleven short months, you can count on the stores to weed their way into your life yet again, as they open up for trick-or-treat season.

As a kid, Spirit Halloween stores were universally beloved. I remember begging my elementary school babysitter to stop by one of their stores every day on our autumn walks home from school. And everyone else was begging their babysitter too! It was a bona fide cultural phenomenon—the mass pilgrimage to Spirit Halloween. I could feel it, it was palpable: the third grade’s collective obsession with this chain of spooky stores.

And then one Halloween, when I wasn’t looking, Spirit Halloween was no longer cool. In fact, it was decidedly uncool. The shift was obvious, particularly in my friends’ costumes, which all had some kind of clever spin to them. Everyone’s costume involved some kind of pun or inside joke, one that I couldn’t fully understand. That year, and every year since, I ordered my Halloween costumes on Amazon. I had outgrown Spirit.

For many Halloweens, I had donned costumes that were some naive mix of “fun” and “scary” (e.g. I was some variant of a dead cheerleader three years in a row). But as the years went on, I demanded more of my Halloween costumes. Now, I am constantly in search of costumes that reside precisely on the border of cleverness and nonsense. For the past few years, my ideal costume has required at least one full minute of explanation, after which it elicits either a mild chuckle or an expression of annoyance and silence. One example that comes to mind: last year, my friend Emma and I dressed up as “me before coffee” and “me after coffee.” The only thing that differentiated our costumes: I acted happy, and she acted sad. To us, it was funny. To everyone else, it was a chore to understand.

I could be alone in this struggle, but I doubt it. I think that many of us have succumbed to a certain pressure to make our Halloween costumes niche and obscure. And in the quest to find a costume that is perfectly witty, I often find one that’s just annoying instead.

My advice for this year: let’s return to Spirit Halloween. They sell every costume—except for the ones that require three-minute explanations that somehow cause even more confusion. I’m going to purchase Spirit Halloween’s “Adult Peanut Butter and Jelly Costume,” and I will dress up as peanut butter, and my best friend will dress up as jelly, and everyone who sees us will understand instantly. It will be lots of fun, and it won’t be clever at all.

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