Jill Rodriquez is dead serious about her Halloween party.
"I'm out of control," she said. "Until a few years ago, we didn't have a house where we could host things like this, so last year was big, and this year will be even bigger and better."
People who take their scary stuff seriously will shell out about $8.8 billion celebrating Halloween this year, according to the National Retail Federation. The average shopper will drop $86.27 on candy, costumes and decor — but there's nothing average about Rodriquez's Halloween habit.
"I try to pick things up as I go along, but I just kind of lose my mind sometimes," Rodriquez said. "Overall, I'll probably end up spending $800 on food, costumes, candy, decorations."
Danielle Stradley has honed her Halloween party strategy over 18 years of annual gatherings. There was a time when she would spend around $600 on the whole spectacle, but she has found ways to cut costs. Her guests all bring a dish to share, and her husband makes many of the decorations.
"When we started, I made all the food, we would have tons of pumpkins — and pumpkins are expensive," she said. "Now I try to keep it like $300 or less."
Both Rodriquez and Stradley will host costume contests, and their families have those plans all figured out. The Rodriquez family will dress as characters from scary movies — think Chuckie and Pennywise — while the Stradleys will mix it up as a witch, the Mad Hatter, and a princess, among others.
"It's just good fun dressing up and getting to step out of your comfort zone and be something that you're not," Rodriquez said.
Susan Stringer, owner of Beauty and the Beast Costumes, counts on that kind of enthusiasm to drive her busiest time of year. The family owned shop in Red Bank where Stringer has outfitted customers for 30 years extends its hours and brings in extra help every October.
"We do about a third of the annual business at Halloween," she said. Lots of shoppers are looking for the standard costume-in-a-bag, and she'll happily sell that, but she also gets a kick out of the imaginative ideas Halloween fans bring through the doors, Stringer said.
BY THE NUMBERS
$86.27: Shoppers say they will spend on average
$8.8 billion: Total spending
172 million: People who plan to celebrate Halloween
What they’ll buy
Source: National Retail Federation
"I make more money off a costume in a bag, but even some of those customers have a lot more fun when they come in here because my husband and I, even my sons and other people that come in to help me, we help figure out how to make what they want to do work," she said. "Maybe it's just my clientele. They're more creative than the average."
The big spenders might part with $125 for an elaborate Pennywise costume or stack up multiple items to build the perfect ensemble, but the average outlay is $50 or $60, Stringer said.
"A lot of the more popular costumes are $56 in the bag," she said.
At Collective Clothing on the North Shore, customers come in looking for creative outfit ideas, and sometimes a moment in the social media spotlight on the store's Instagram page.
"We have about 12,000 followers, so customers like to be on our Instagram," said Annie Haun, one of the employees of the vintage clothing store who keeps that feed full of images of retro, weird and quirky duds every day.
Collective Clothing has a Halloween section made up of pieces employees have picked out and put together, Haun said. "I made a Wednesday Addams costume out of things in the shop," she said. "And I'm about to post this 1960s majorette dance costume to Instagram."
Once the Halloween season blows by, things will slow down at Beauty and the Beast — but just a little and not for long, Stringer said.
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"Christmas is huge, too," she said. "Not as big as Halloween, but it's a real close second."
Collective Clothing will stay busy through the holidays, too, Haun said. "The holidays are big with people looking for clothes for parties," she said.
At Stradley's house, once the scary decorations are all put away, they'll have the conversation they've had every year for nearly two decades.
"About Nov. 2, I'm always like 'We're not doing it next year,'" Stradley said. "And then January comes and I'm like 'What are we doing for Halloween?'"
Contact Mary Fortune at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.