Seasonal Halloween stores temporarily fill big boxes left empty by economy

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Brian Watt/KPCC

Amanda Claverie, left, and her mother Judy at the RIP Halloween Megastore in Monrovia.

If you’re still looking for Halloween party supplies, decorations or costume ideas, you can surely find a giant Halloween store nearby that has it all. The seasonal stores pop up like ghosts in a graveyard – and then vanish into thin air soon after the trick-or-treating is done. They’re filling a lot of big spaces left for dead by a tough economy.

Even if you’re not a big Halloween celebrator, the RIP Halloween megastore in Monrovia gets you in the spirit. Fake cobwebs, veils, skeletons and spiders line the long entrance to what used to be a car dealership showroom. Inside: rows of shelves full of everything Amanda Claverie and her mother Judy need to decorate a friend’s house for a birthday-slash-Halloween party.

"We’re having a mad scientist lab, we’re having a vampire room and we’re having a crime scene and pool of blood," Amanda Claverie says.

"With a floating body," her mother adds.

"And a fog machine," Amanda Claverie continues.

When asked about their budget for their party, Judy Claverie says they're trying to get the "the most fun for our buck."

"Two-hundred bucks, tops," says her daughter.

Two-hundred bucks sounds like a lot, especially these days – but not to store manager Angela Fennessy.

"Well, you know, Halloween is the one time of the year where everybody – it doesn’t seem the economy is affecting them," says Fennessy.

She says customers are obviously looking for the least expensive costumes and are price checking against other stores, but they’re still buying costumes and decorations.

Both are more affordable than new cars, which is what the Mountain Avenue location sold for more than 20 years. For most of that time, it was a Sierra Auto Group car dealership – first Lincoln-Mercury, then Saturns, and later Mazdas.

Then came the recession. To cut costs, Sierra moved the Mazda showroom around the corner early last year where they also sell Hondas, Buicks, Subarus and Chevys. Sierra still owns the building and uses the garage to prep new cars for its lots.

Two months ago, it leased the showroom to the RIP Halloween megastore, and Angela Fennessy came in to oversee a speedy transformation. "Getting rid of all the equipment and stuff that Mazda had left in here, to clean out the store," she remembers, standing next to a popular circus ringmaster costume. "Got the guys in here to do the grid walling. Put up the product and yeah, everything from start to finish," she laughs. "And I’ll do the close down, too."

The close down will take two weeks. The store’s 18 employees – most of them part-time – will move on. Then RIP will... well... rest in peace for a while in Monrovia.

The chain opened 14 locations in Southern California (San Diego included) this Halloween season. And the City of Monrovia was glad to have a thriving business rise from the dead space, even for just a matter of weeks.

Nobody at Monrovia City Hall expects a Halloween store to deliver the same sales tax revenue as a car lot, but Monrovia’s management analyst Dan Bell says that’s not really the point.

"When these stores come in, they are a great benefit," Bell said. He sat in a city conference room decorated to the hilt for Halloween with wares from the RIP megastore.

"This store in particular right off the freeway, as you come into our town, you see that and rather than a big blighted empty lot, you see a nice use with large signage and active, and it really is inviting," said Bell.

RIP is just one chain on the Halloween hunt for big box spaces that a changing economy turned into retail graveyards. One of RIP’s competitors, Halloween Adventure, has a page on its website that asks people to suggest locations.

In places like Woodland Hills, Ventura and Sherman Oaks, its stores are in the old haunts of Circuit City, Barnes and Noble and KB toys.

The chains compete not just for customers, but for prominent locations, too. So RIP was lucky to find a vacant car showroom in Monrovia.

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