Banking on Halloween

Jenny Ochoa and her boyfriend Nick Belpasso try on masks with her children Justin, 10, and Jenny, 13, Wednesday night at Halloween City.

It takes a certain personality to be a dancing street sign holder.

Throw a polyester jailbird jumpsuit and maniacal rubber clown mask into the mix, and your pool of willing candidates just got narrower.

“You don’t quite ask to dance on the corner,” laughed a sweaty Tristen Redondo, 19, his forehead beading with perspiration. “You just ask them for a job, and tell them that you’re a hard, hard worker – and then they give you a hard, hard job.”

The sole sign holder for Spirit Halloween at 6904 Chestnut St. in Gilroy works between five to six hours a day, six days a week. He sets up camp near the U.S.101 off-ramp on 10th Street, stretches out, queues up his playlist (full of Metallica and Marilyn Manson) and guzzles approximately 2 gallons of water per shift.  

At least Redondo’s black-and-white-striped convict get-up has better ventilation than the hairy gorilla suit he started out with.

Given recent temperatures in the 80s, “that got way too hot,” he laughed.

For someone who gets honked at, flipped off, laughed at and sometimes treated like a living target, the 2011 Mount Madonna Continuation High School graduate has an admirably sunny attitude and a go-with-the-flow outlook on his seasonal occupation.

One driver even chucked an empty Monster energy drink can at Redondo. He shrugs it off, as if “spontaneous projectiles” were a part of the job.

“I caught it, though, so it was all good,” he smiles.

Dancing advertisers or no dancing advertisers, a slow economic recovery won’t scare away a record 170 million people who plan to partake in the spookiest holiday of them all this year, according to the National Retail Foundation. That’s up 68.6 percent from last year and the largest jump in 10-year survey history.

Consumers are expecting to spend more, too: The average person will shell out $79.82 on Halloween candy, costumes and décor, up $7.51 from 2011. Total Halloween spending is expected to breach to $8 billion – up $1.17 billion from last year and the most in the NRF’s 10-year survey history.

While various reports cite Halloween as the second-highest grossing commercial holiday after Christmas, Spirit Halloween manager Chris Pisano believes “people spend way more money on Halloween decorations than at Christmas.”

“Yeah, just to see little kids cry,” quipped assistant manger Mark Wessels, who at one point tried on a Catwoman suit for kicks (Spirit employees joke they’ll compete to see who can look the most ridiculous).

Wessel’s coworker, Omuri Ranson, might be the champion.

“Yeaaahhhh! I got nutrients!” he warbled, dancing around delightedly near the dressing room in a full banana suit.

Speaking of grown men dressing like fruit, silly food-inspired costumes such as bacon are trending this year, according to CNBC’s Consumer Nation.

As for last year’s pop culture fads, Katy Perry and Charlie Sheen have been dethroned by a certain vulgar Teddy Bear that starred opposite of Mark Wahlberg in the 2012 R-rated blockbuster comedy, “Ted.”

The supremely quizzical “Morphsuits” are also selling like mad (think skin-tight spandex bodysuits in solid neon hues), according to employees at Spirit and Halloween City on Renz Lane in Gilroy, where Executive Manager Albert Garza expects to gross anywhere between $500,000 to $800,000 in just two months.

Spooky props and devilish animatronics play their part in bringing in the profits.

“Isn’t he awesome?” said a beaming Dianne Scarbrough, 59, showing off her purchase. “He was on sale for $100. I’m really excited.”

The vision of Scarbrough exiting the store, pushing an orange shopping cart loaded with a 7-foot tall, bugged-eyed Styrofoam alien – its bony arms reaching and bouncing and flailing in the air – was something to behold.

Things were just starting to get fun, and ridiculous, around 5 p.m. Tuesday at Halloween City, where droves of children engaged their parents in the very serious business of costume hunting.

“The plush horns … you know, they’re like a stuffed animal … yes, it’s fake … neither looks particularly realistic,” said Marcus Michel, 38, describing two different styles of Viking helmets to his son via cell phone.

“Shouldn’t there be a certain age where your daughter can try fishnet stockings?” mumbled another bemused father, doing his best to guide his young daughter as she browsed outfits.  

Other children took things into their own hands.

“Um, do you know where the G.I. Joe swords are?” asked one little boy.

In another corner, loud man-giggles emerged from Gavilan College student Jordan Eden, 21, and his buddy Juan Delgado, also 21. They plan on making a splash at a Halloween party – but their beer pong prowess might be stymied if they compete in costume.

“Is your nose in the way, too?” said Eden, gazing at himself in a full-length mirror and fiddling with the softball-sized Muppet nose that obstructed his vision. Eden, the taller of the two, was dressed as Bert from “Sesame Street.”

“Um, yeahhhh,” replied Delgado from behind an Ernie mask.

A handful of other trendy getups flying off shelves include Alana “Honey Boo Boo” Thompson, the  beauty pageant child star of a TLC reality show, tuxedo duds from the music video “Gangnam Style” (a chart-topper from overnight Korean pop sensation, PSY), versions of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele from the 2011 erotic novel “50 shades of Grey” and outfits inspired by Mattel’s “Monster High” dolls.

Depending on what kind of quality you’re looking for, any of those options could set you back $40 to $100.

As for the most popular costumes of 2012, the generic witch, vampire and pirate dominate the top three adult choices for like, the 100th year and counting, according to NRF data.

Characters from “The Dark Knight Rises” – the third installment of the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman trilogy that hit theaters this year – come in fourth. Political costumes rank 12th; just 1 percent short of its arguably synonymous predecessor, “scary costume/mask.”

This year’s 2012 London Olympic games also influenced a rise in popularity for the “athlete” category, so if you’re at a Halloween party and there’s a guy running around in a Speedo acting cocky, he’s likely dressed as U.S. Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte.

And there’s no shortage of racy inventory that looks like it was lifted from Victoria’s Secret.

It seems nothing is safe from corporate costume manufacturers such as Leg Avenue and Yandy. Perhaps they’re on a mission to prove that virtually the most mundane and innocent items can be scandalized with the right amount – or lack of – spandex and fishnet, be it a watermelon, Chinese takeout container, Ernie from “Sesame Street,” mental patient, Mrs. Potato Head or – get ready for it – a remote control.

“I tried on an Indian dress, but it was too short… my (butt) was hanging out,” laughed Gavilan College cosmetology student Millie Merino, 23, of the beaded and faux-leather number that offered about as much coverage as a figure-skating costume. “I’m not used to showing so much.”

After trying on several Native American-inspired outfits and encountering the same problem, “I’ll probably just make my own,” she said.

$8 billion: Expected total Halloween spending
$2.87 billion: The amount of money Americans will spend on costumes this year
$79.82: The average amount Americans will spend on decorations, costumes and candy for Halloween. Up $7.51 from 2011.
170 million: The record number of people who plan to partake in Halloween celebrations this year. That’s up 68.6 percent from 2011 and the highest in 10 years.  
35.7: The percentage of Americans who will look to a retail store for costume ideas
27.1: The percentage of Americans who will look for costume ideas via social media sites
Source: The National Retail Federation

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