Spirit Halloween: before and after Oct. 31

Jayden Erie, Features Editor

Credit: Jayden Erie

Besides trick-or-treating, the most emblematic tradition of the holiday is putting together a Halloween costume. With the limited inventory of department stores, pop-up shops dedicated to costumes and festive decorations have become a staple of Halloween shopping. 

Spirit Halloween is the biggest player in the pop-up store market– they possess the commercial space of the country every fall with over 1,400 locations in the United States. 

Every store in the retail chain boasts a wide variety of Halloween products. Their walls are lined with pre-packaged adult and children’s costumes, spooky decorations, cosmetics and enough Halloween accessories to equip a cemetery’s worth of trick-or-treaters and party-goers. 

When a Spirit Halloween pops up in late summer, it vanishes from its temporary commercial location in just a few short months without a trace. What happens to these stores after Halloween, and the people that work there?

The cycle of Spirit Halloween begins in January, when the company starts looking for new store locations. Leasing agents scour the country in search of dormant commercial spaces, most often where retail stores have gone out of business. They sign for temporary leases, setting the stage for their limited August-through-November storefront season.

This year, Bloomington’s Spirit Halloween set up shop in Eastland Mall off of Empire St.

Employees are typically hired in early summer, but those in leadership positions come back every fall to command their local Halloween hotspots. 

Ashley Wernsman, district manager of the Bloomington, Peoria and Pekin stores, just finished her 8th season with Spirit Halloween. Once her shops close their doors in November, she continues work with her cleaning business and with Morton Auto Auction. 

“We try to have a lot of the same employees every year, but this store doesn’t have as many returning employees because this is a college town,” Wernsman said. “I think everyone graduates and goes onto their next adventure.”

Despite the short 3 month work period that Spirit Halloween employees have, Wernsman said that it’s typically not hard to find new employees. Most of them love Halloween and like the idea of earning a little extra money while utilizing the 30 percent off employee discount. 

The weekend before Halloween is the busiest, and Wernsman really enjoys the atmosphere of the store during that period. “Everyone dresses up and enjoys it. It’s like Black Friday,” she said. “People line the wall, we listen to music while checking people out, and we have fun.” 

It takes about 10 days to set up a Spirit Halloween, and only takes three to pack it up. Nov. 1 was the last business day of Bloomington’s Spirit Halloween. Employees packed the boxes that lined the floor while light foot traffic perused the discounted costumes left on the shelves. 

By Nov. 3 there will be no trace of the Halloween store, and all of the workers will “go back to their own thing,” Wernsman said. 

Next year the Spirit Halloween banner will be plastered over a new vacant building in Bloomington, but the date of their ghoulish return is still up in the air.