Halloween stores open, including a new store from a longtime local retailer
photo by: Journal-World photo/Chad Lawhorn
I’ve been told that any time of year is a good time for me to wear a mask, but for the rest of you, Halloween is prime mask season. Predictably, a couple of Halloween stores have popped up in Lawrence, but this year one of them is a local operation run by a family that has dressed Lawrence residents in funny outfits for years.
Kyle Billings, the former owner of Lawrence’s Fun & Games store, has opened Lawrence Costumes in the shopping center next to Hy-Vee on Clinton Parkway. Billings sold costumes at the old Fun & Games store for about 17 years before the store closed about four years ago.
Billings said he missed the business and — he’s not going to lie — he had a whole lot of costumes still sitting in storage. Billings said he counted more than 1,000 bagged costumes when he was setting up the store recently.
Then, there are all the accessories. There are hooks for pirates, rainbow colored wigs for clowns, microphones for Hannah Montana and — what is this? — a jewel-encrusted whistle for “Hottie Police.”
Yes, the store has all types of youth and adult costumes, as Fun & Games did plenty of business with the college crowd when the store was still in business.
Billings, though, said he really enjoyed serving Lawrence families, and this new temporary store has allowed him to see lots of folks already.
“It is a fun business because in this town every age group seems to enjoy this holiday,” Billings said. “We would watch the customers grow. I missed seeing some of the same families come in every year. We’ve seen some of them again, and they’re still excited.”
photo by: Journal-World photo/Chad Lawhorn
The second Halloween store is the national chain Spirit Halloween. Spirit has operated a seasonal store in Lawrence for a number of years, moving from one vacant retail building to the next. This year, the store is located in the former Sears Hometown store near 23rd and Iowa streets. If you are having a hard time picturing the location, it is next door to the Texas Roadhouse restaurant.
Chasidy Ray has worked at the Lawrence store for several seasons and echoed some of Billings’ statements: In Lawrence, Halloween isn’t just for the kids. The store sells costumes for kids and adults, but she said adult sales make up a majority of the store’s business.
“The college students have a lot of parties, so they buy so much,” Ray said.
Ray said working at the store is her favorite job. And why wouldn’t it be? What other job do you get to say “Meet me in the facial hair section, or let me point you to the ears and tails department?” Any other job, that’s a ticket to an HR meeting, but those are actual sections of the Spirit store.
The store sells costumes, accessories and a lot of home decor items, including the large animatronic props that you can set in your yard.
In case you are wondering about costume trends, Ray said a lot of costume buying has been related to “Fortnite,” which is a popular online video game. Oddly, costumes related to “Hocus Pocus” also have been popular. That’s a 1990s Disney movie that starred Bette Midler. (Maybe it is not so odd. I bet you I could scare the stuffing out of you in a Bette Midler costume.)
Both stores are temporary, seasonal stores. They both will be open through Halloween and maybe a week or so longer.
For those of you wondering whether Billings has any plans to reopen a Fun & Games type of costume store on a more permanent basis, he does not. He is busy running the day-to-day operations of the Lawrence Antique Mall in downtown. His parents have operated the business for years, and he’s taking over many of those responsibilities.
Despite some general worries in downtown about retail, Billings said the Antique Mall is actually doing great. He said the mall has about 80 vendors, and it expanded into the upper floor space that at one time housed the Fun & Games store. He said the trend of online retail actually has helped the Antique Mall in some ways.
“We have seen a lot of people who have started out by having an Etsy store or something else online, but they want to have a storefront presence too,” Billings said.
As for the costume and game business, he said that has become a very difficult business to operate as a stand-alone venture.
“Being a year-round costume store is kind of an oddity anymore,” Billings said. “You just don’t think of it enough. Now, when your kid tells you at the kitchen table that he needs a George Washington mask for school tomorrow, then you think of us.”