Struggle to Sell Spooks
the Face of Real Terror
By Joshua Kors
George, UT - No
one wants Halloween to succeed more than Richard Lamb. Lamb, who
owns the costume shop Joker Joker in St. George, depends on trick-or-treaters
and masqueraders to keep business strong. Traditionally he sees
a surge in sales right around Halloween.
That's not happening this year.
Sales are down, as are rentals, and employees accustomed to a flood
of young customers are growing concerned.
Lori Evans has sold masks, cloaks and costumes at Joker Joker for
the last several months.
"Nobody renting anything," Evans said. "It's the
third week in October and we've hardly had any costume rentals at
all. It's like everybody's on hold to see what's going to happen
next. Everybody's scared because of the anthrax."
Joker Joker isn't the only retailer caught in this year's Halloween
pinch. For costume shops, candy stores and haunted houses, the holiday
couldn't come at a more inopportune time. The nation is still reeling
from the Sept. 11 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
October 26, 2001
Utah is still reeling from the Oct. 9 stabbing of barber John
and last week's anthrax scare at Tuacahn Amphitheater.
an American, Lamb says he is not immune to such wartime jitters:
He has been worried for his son, a United Airlines pilot who flies
the same route as Flight 175, which slammed into the Trade Center
Sept. 11. As a businessman, though, Lamb remains optimistic that
the war and the bioterrorist threat will not hamper sales. He says
Southern Utahns will come around to the spirit of the holiday, that
they are far enough from New York to do so.
"If we were back in New York and were exposed to seeing the
gore of human hearts, pieces of skin, body parts, then (celebrating)
would be like Halloween in Hiroshima," Lamb said. "But
here in St. George I don't think it will feel that way. The only
thing we saw was the planes going into the two towers. We weren't
close enough to see the blood."
Still, other Halloween-based businesses are hedging their bets.
Roger Taylor, who has put up four spook houses in recent years,
altered the name of this year's haunting. Taylor's "Booooo-levard
Haunted House" was originally titled "The Booooo-levard
House of Terror." Taylor nixed that name when he realized "terror"
carried new, unsavory connotations.
"I don't think what happened in New York should change what
we do for Halloween, but we did try to stay away from things you
would be able to associate with it," Taylor said. "We
changed (the name) so it wouldn't have 'terror' for 'terrorism'
He also removed the sword from the spook house knight's armor. The
"Booooo-levard's" Roman soldiers will do without weapons
"I think once the terrorist attacks happened red flags went
everywhere," explained Robbie Staheli. Staheli and his family,
a staple in the local spook business, hold a haunting each year
on their Washington farm. This year Staheli spearheaded a haunted
corn maze, a venture he says his family undertook with extra precautions.
"For one," he said, "we got radios now -- walkie-talkies,
ten of them. If there's a problem, we can deal with it."
At Southern Utah University, the student government will be dealing
with security by doubling its personnel. The school's annual Howl
Halloween party will feature Cedar City policemen, who will be stationed
around campus to monitor the haunted hay ride.
"I do think Halloween will be different this year," said
special event director Dani Hall, who coordinated The Howl. "I
hope people will take the holiday as it is -
you know, as Halloween. But I'm sure there will be someone who'll
think they're funny and will make bomb threats or something."
Other Halloween regulars, like the Seven Wives Inn, didn't have
to confront such dangers this year: The inn canceled its annual
Lamb cautions people not to read such cancellations as reactions
to terror. He points out that in addition to striking fear, Sept.
11 struck a blow to the flagging economy. With fewer disposable
funds, fewer organizations have the resources for cost-intensive
ventures like a spook house.
Still the costume shop owner adds that for Halloween-based business,
the war on terrorism has carried a silver lining: Joker Joker has
seen a surge in demand for patriotic attire.
"Uncle Sam, the Statue of Liberty, police uniforms -
all these costumes: You can't get one. I can't buy one," Lamb
said. "People who rent costumes like that have had such a deluge
of people wanting to have them. They're asking for anything patriotic
that came out of the disaster."
Others in the spook business have made equal efforts to add a patriotic
flavor to their ventures. The Staheli family already had mask-wearing
ghouls and a creepy tractor ride at their Haunted Corn Maze in Washington.
Recently Burke Staheli added a new attraction: an ass named Osama
"When we go by I say to everybody, 'Wave bye-bye to Osama,'"
Staheli said with a smile. The children on his tractor always smile
in return, a fact that has convinced him, he said, that this year's
real-life horrors haven't killed Halloween's good-natured ones.
"That's the wonder of children," Staheli said. "They're
naïve enough to not let some things bother them. For the little
ones especially, the spirit of Halloween is definitely not dead."