Source: National Retail Federation
The National Retail Federation expects seven out of 10 Americans will celebrate Halloween this year by spending an average of $72.32 on:
• Costumes - $26.52
• Candy - $21.05
• Decorations - $19.79
• Greeting cards - $4.96
Source: National Retail Federation
Jessica and Ricky Hughes were surrounded by three tiny gremlins, baring their sharp white teeth as they glared at the Whitwell couple.
The Hughes knew if they were to escape the gremlin's gaze, they'd have to pay the price.
"I'd say $60 to $70, easily," Jessica Hughes said.
The gremlins, their 3-, 4- and 5-year old children, were shopping for Halloween costumes. The tiny trio can't wait for Halloween. An hour after trick-or-treating last year, 5-year-old Logan asked if they could do it again tomorrow.
"I love it," Jessica Hughes said. "It's excellent for them."
The Hughes are typical shoppers in what the National Retail Federation projects will be a $6.86 billion Halloween season. The average customer is expected to spend $72.31 on costumes, candy, decorations and greeting cards, up from $66.28 last year, the federation estimated.
As the season winds up to its ghoulish climax, retailers expect to be see more customers than a month-old zombie sees flies.
"We get almost as much business in the last two weeks as the first six," said Jammie Hunt, manager of the Hamilton Place Halloween Express. "It probably triples."
Her store opens the first day of September, and she expects her daily customer count will jump to more than 500 from now until the Great Pumpkin arrives.
But her best-selling costumes might only scare parents and preachers. The hot firefighters and naughty cops of the Leg Avenue and Dream Girl lines are big sellers, as are some classic movie characters, including Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz."
"Dorothy's always popular," Hunt said. "Regular Dorothy and sexy Dorothy."
Such sexy costumes can lead to devilish dilemmas. Hunt said she must be careful to keep an eye on her dressing rooms, not only to prevent shoplifting, but to make sure teenage girls aren't trying on the outfits and sending cell phone photos to their boyfriends.
Halloween Express also sells plenty of more covering costumes for adults and kids. Add the costumes with decorations and props, and Hunt's typical cash register rings up $150 per person, she said.
The Gunbarrel Road Target has seen higher costume and candy sales this year than last, according to manager Tonya Long.
Chattanooga candy stores are making out better than a vampire in a blood bank. Dee Aslinger, manager of Hamilton Place's Candy Craze, said her store did $30,000 in October sales last year, and they're on track for an even better 2011.
"We see more people now that what we did last year," she said. "From now on, it doesn't end till February."
Halloween tends to be the kick off a four- to five-month-long candy sales season, according to Susan Smith of the National Confectioners Association. Halloween is the biggest season of her industry's year, she said, followed by Christmas, Easter and Valentine's Day.
Last year, Halloween candy sales reached $2 billion, she said, and national figures project another $2 billion year. In good economies and bad, steady candy sales can be counted on as surely as the return of the killer from any hit horror film.
"Candy does OK in economic downturns and does well when the economy is doing well," Smith said.
For the Hughes family, candy is an important part of the holiday. Jessica's looking forward to taking the kids, who plan to trade in the sharp teeth for Spider-man, princess and fairy costumes, to the same neighborhood their parents trick-or-treated when they were kids.
The family plans to grab two or three bags of candy themselves to hand out to trick-or-treaters. It may be a lot of sweets, Jessica said, but she won't be worried if she can't hand it all out.
With three kids, one way or another it's getting eaten.