WASHINGTON – Holly McDermott’s annual Halloween bash gets more ghoulishly intense with each repetition.
For the 100 costumed guests expected this second year at her Annapolis home she expects to spend hundreds of dollars on decorations — oodles of pumpkins, cornhusks, spider webs, tombstones and a fog machine fill the front yard. She usually hires babysitters “to watch the kids so the adults can party” and typically spends weeks preparing food and getting a costume together for the big event.
“It’s a perfect time to have an adult party,” she said. “Putting on costume, a mask, it’s like Mardi Gras.”
McDermott is one of a growing number of adults taking over what used to be mainly a child’s holiday. The more mature Halloweeners are throwing lavish parties, masquerading in elaborate costumes and festooning their yards with webs and orange lights and installing gruesome scenes.
This year, 64 percent of adults are expected to participate in Halloween — a 20 percent increase from last year. Consumers are expected to spend $4.96 billion, up from $3.29 billion in 2005, according to statistics from the Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey sponsored by the National Retail Federation.
“Adults took Halloween back from the kids,” said Richard T. Crowe, a ghost hunter based in Chicago who’s operated Chicago Supernatural Tours since 1973. “It’s too good of a holiday just to waste.”
Although Halloween ranks sixth in holiday spending and fails to come close to the $438.6 billion spent on winter holidays, it ranks second only to Christmas on the amount spent on decorations, according to the survey.
“You go back five or six years and Halloween, in terms of the retail calendar, was really not that big,” said Tom Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. “It was nothing like it is now.”
For Wal-Mart, which has 41 stores in Maryland, Halloween is the second-largest holiday behind Christmas in terms of merchandise offerings for seasonal business, said company spokeswoman Marisa Bluestone. The company has responded to an increase in the demand from adults for things like Halloween decor and merchandise to entertain their friends, she said.
By the time McDermott counts in food, alcohol and other treats, her party will cost around $1,000.
“It’s always been fun, and I think that’s what we try to capture, that element of fun,” McDermott said, who dressed up as an outlet and plug with her fiance, Rick Lipscomb, last year. They’re deciding between matching ghoul costumes and an Alice In Wonderland theme for this year’s party.
Adults are definitely fueling the fire behind the dramatic growth in the Halloween industry, said T.J. Pekin, the owner of Costumes Creative in Silver Spring. “It’s become an adult holiday,” he said.
With more than 15,000 costumes ranging in price from $80 to $125 and 100 wigs in stock, “there’s very little we can’t costume,” he said.
Most of his customers put a lot of time and thought into their costumes and usually come in at least a week before Oct. 31, if not sooner, looking for the perfect outfit, he said.
Some have gone so far as to bring in pictures of non-traditional costumes like Charlie Chaplin and the barbarians from the Capital One commercials.
“They don’t go to the ‘quickie mart’ to get a costume because their images are on the line,” he said.
This season, 34 percent of adults said they planned to dress in a costume compared to last year’s 32 percent, and 30 percent said they will either throw or attend a party to celebrate Halloween, up nearly 5 percent from last year, according to the survey.
For McDermott’s bash this year, Dawn Lampman and her husband, Mark, are going as Thomas Jefferson and his wife. They rented costumes from the Annapolis Opera for $50, which came with powdered wigs, jewelry, shoe buckles and bows.
The price coupled with the convenience made the costumes “a really viable option for us,” she said. “My husband loves Thomas Jefferson.”
Based on the sheer number of parties, Halloween is ranked third behind New Years Eve and the Super Bowl, according to 2004 data compiled by Hallmark, said company spokeswoman, Deidre Parkes.
“Every year there’s some expansion of Halloween,” said Diane Langhorst, director of marketing for TransWorld Exhibits Inc., a management company that coordinates Halloween trade shows. “Ten years ago people would put up some decorations in the bar but now there are organized drinking games, pub crawls and costume contests.”