COLUMBIA, SC — Zombies watch customers browse the shelves of merchandise at Halloween Express where they can transform into a sassy sailor, superhero, favorite movie character or almost anything else.
People are crazy for Halloween, said Libya Rentz, who manages the store on Harbison Boulevard.
And while business has slowed down since the recession started four years ago, store owner Delette Wyndham said sales have been decent for this years holiday, culminating with tonights trick-or-treating.
The last few years have been a little down but everybodys still buying and spending, Wyndham said.
A record 170 million people nationwide plan to celebrate Halloween this year spending an expected $8 billion on costumes, candy, decorations and greeting cards, according to National Retail Federation 2012 Halloween consumer spending survey. Thats 17 percent, or $1.14 billion, more than last year.
Even though the holiday falls midweek this year and a lot of people celebrated last weekend, Rentz said people will still be celebrating through tonight.
Halloween spending falls behind gift-giving holidays, such as Christmas, and even back-to-school shopping and the Superbowl, according to the federation. But how much people spend typically is a barometer of how well holiday spending will go in general.
People spend a lot of money they want to look good, they want to buy more than one costume, they want their yards to look good, Rentz said.
Neighbors try to outdo each other and a lot of people have spent several hundred dollars on things for their homes, she said.
Customers vary from young children looking for trick-or-treat costumes to college students or other adults dressing up for parties.
Nine-year-old Darby Fennel of Irmo tried on a Twister outfit, like the popular board game, with her mom last week.
We went to another shop and she couldnt find anything, said her mom, Nancy Fennell.
Darby originally wanted to be a crayon but she enjoys Twister because you get twisted up, she said.
Wyndham prides herself on offering a strong selection of costumes until the end of the holiday. The options also drew a father and son from Forest Drive last week.
They have a lot more stuff here than anywhere else, Anthony Hargett, 39, said.
After looking at a lot of costumes, 4-year-old Anthony Hargett Jr., settled on being Iron Man for Halloween because hes awesome, the preschooler said.
More families have shopped at the store this year, whereas in the past about 75 percent of customers were college students, Rentz said.
The prices of outfits people plan to wear once a year can be steep $49.99 to be a beer keg or an Angry Birds bird and $46.99 to be a monster bride.
But Rentz tells customers they can spend as much or as little as they want with economical options like a cat tail and ears for $9.99.
USC students Jessica Seib and Dan Spieler shopped last week for party outfits. Seib was simply buying bunny ears, but Spieler had an outfit to be The Dictator from the popular movie.
Some risqué outfits, such as some revealing womens costumes and mens costumes that play on dirty humor can deter some customers, and Rentz said she gets two or three complaints each season. In response, she shows the concerned customers more conservative outfits.
Once someone purchases an outfit, he or she can not return it a policy that Rentz said is intended to protect the store since it is a seasonal, short-lived business.
Sometimes customers will buy an outfit, wear it and then want to exchange it, she said. The policy is designed to prevent that from happening and signs are posted throughout the store, she said.
Halloween Express is a constant celebration of the holiday with excited customers and upbeat music that plays on repeat for the employees.
Rentz forgets how tired she is, even after working long days, because of the fun atmosphere.
And Halloween takes over her subconscious.
I fall asleep to Ding-Dong! The Witch is Dead, Rentz said.