The following material is laced with hellish observations and absurd analogies. As funny as they may be, I think the hilarity really stems from the stark nature of Halloween’s role in culture. There are a lot of amusing and humorous ways to look at the holiday and the way we all react to it.
When the weather chills and the days shorten, withered and dull leaves fall from the trees headed into hibernation. Corn mazes are aplenty, baseball season is winding down, darker colors are vogue, Starbucks has announced an earlier return of their famous Pumpkin Spice Latte, and Spirit Halloween is back. The Spirit stores, perhaps an older sibling to Spencer’s and a Party City on caffeine, are more than a generic and novel pop-up in America. Their magical arrival across the nation brings a new season with them, serving as a modern-day Harvest Moon. The first sight of a Spirit Halloween store might as well be the new New Year. These shops are surprisingly more multi-functional than one may think; like any store that pushes the sales of make-up (from an apparently endless stock), there is more than meets the eye. Spirit is, without a doubt, many things.
The most paradoxical fact that comes to mind when I think of Spirit, is the truth in knowing that the entire existence of the temporary business completely relies on the failure of smaller companies. Spirit will gladly make home within the walls of a freshly closed place of work. Unless we were the proprietor of said closed business, we are all somewhat guilty of coming across a Spirit and giving little thought to the Super Kmart that it was before. Where there once was a humble storefront name, there is an orange banner that displays a lunging skeleton reaper of sorts. Beneath this harbinger of death, there’s a yellow “NOW HIRING” sign, which is — to the consumer — equally charming, astute, and comical. These Spirit stores leave town in the same manner that they came, quickly and efficiently. There’s something remarkable and underrated about the swiftness of these shops. They are like the friend who knows exactly when to leave your house party. They are like your beloved relative that visits once a year. They are like orange and black tornadoes that come rolling into your city and leave destruction within your wallet and a sensible trail of glitter on the ground.
A trip to Spirit is more of an experience than a prosaic visit. Spirit stores can be compared to gas stations: if you have been in one, you’ve been in them all. There’s something Twilight Zone-y about that. Although you know what you’re in for when you make your eleventh-hour run for a costume, there’s a small part of you that truly wants to go into this shop. Despite the fact that you know how large and corporate this company is, there exists an other-worldly urge to step in. This half Walmart, half Wall Street is all too inviting; the store banner, albeit simple, is tantalizing and beckoning. It’s almost as if you’re at Disneyland’s front gates, at the front doors of a museum. The sights await. There’s an interactive playfulness that is just beyond this threshold. You walk in and you’re greeted by a hard working employee or the battery operated floor mat that makes a growl or zombie belch as you step on it. The odor is of mass-produced plastic and rubber. Children are giddily running around, probably away from their guardians. The “Monster Mash” is tastefully playing in the background, under the traffic of laughter and worry-free dialogue. The plug-in, stand-up monsters are lit up and moving with jerks and hiccups. Costume racks have been expertly suffused with the stretchy, fake cobwebs. Even the most brutish looking of men is showing an upward curl in the corner of his mouth. A “Let me know if I can help you” is respectfully yelled in your direction, but you’re too busy taking it all in. You’ve been here before. This is a homecoming.
For some reason beyond explanation, it’s almost mandatory that a full lap around the store is underway. Everyone is trying to be mindful of their own personal space as the movement is ceaseless. Any halt that is made is purposeful and usually tells of the closer inspection of an item that’s on sale. The Spirit workers sift in and out of a back room where inventory is supposedly kept. You haven’t seen inventory, however, so this “back room” might as well be a portal into Halloween Town itself, where there is no shortage of all things Halloween. You’re wearing a smile because there is happiness and thrill in the air. Childhood memories flood your mind as you saunter around. You picture a small, little-self. Your age is merely a number under this roof. Adults are given the allowance to be kids again.
The most peculiar part of this store is in the back corner, where all the lace and feathers and other suggestive props are kept. This section is tucked away like a guilty pleasure, strategically placed at a distance from the harmless children garb. In this infernal corner, there are bunny ears and small sequined masks. You’ll find the fishnets back here, hanging right next to the whips. (You think I’m kidding about this. I’m not.) The handcuffs are here, adjacent to the pleather accessories. Black tassels are positioned beside the beads. There’s something for everyone here. Welcome to hell. It’s kind of like a Victoria’s Secret on Benadryl.
As time has passed, you realize you’ve walked a fair amount. Your step-count goal for the day is almost reached. Sightseeing was involved, laughs were cracked, frights were accepted, and families were entertained. Spirit is suddenly a front-runner in the “ideal place for first date” category. That’s because Spirit really does play multiple roles. What it lacks in elaborateness and niceness, it makes up for in honesty. It’s entirely true to itself. It’s not trying to be anything opposite of what it is. The store does more than sell for Halloween. It personifies the extremes of human emotion; it serves as a mirror of our collective condition. Spirit Halloween shops are agreeable and decent. They are a steady and reliable constant. In a politically divisive moment, they are one of the last bastions of American common ground. Go figure!