Some People Fear It

Spirit Halloween Store

Halloween is almost here…this Saturday, October 31 in case you didn’t realize. I’m not much of a Halloween aficionado, but I do enjoy an annual trip to the Spirit store. That’s the Halloween superstore chain that sprouts like mushrooms every Fall in cities all across the U.S. and Canada. There are literally dozens of these stores in the Bay Area but if you find yourself on my favorite road in need of a last-minute costume or some ghoulish lawn decorations, you’ll be happy to know there are three Spirit stores on El Camino Real ready to serve you: Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, and Redwood City.

Last weekend I took my son to the Santa Clara store to find some accessories for his Halloween costume. He was anxious to acquire some accoutrements of affluence, a.k.a. some bling, to round out his costume as a successful NFL player. We had a good time trying out all of the creepy talking ornaments and laughing at the gag costumes. I like to observe what the latest fashions in Hallo-wear are each year and this year to be honest nothing particularly stood out to me as new or original. For kids they seemed to be pushing “Clone Wars” and “High School Musical,” both of which were just as popular last year. For adults there were the same old standbys: hippies, sexy policewomen, etc. These are classics that are always fun to wear and there’s nothing wrong with them, but they are timeless which is exactly my point. I was surprised that the store failed to capitalize on the headlines, hits, and trends of 2009.

There was one timely display, a Michael Jackson section, but it was oddly placed, up by the registers, hard to see.  They ranged from the top-of-his-game Thriller-era sequined glove to Wacko-Jacko facemasks. I didn’t notice it in the store but apparently another hot item this year is the Kate Gosselin wig. And that’s all I have to say about that.

Where I did see a lot of innovation this year was in lawn and party props. The showpiece was an assortment of evil-looking babies: zombie baby, two-headed baby, demon baby, etc. The craftsmanship and realism was truly impressive, which pretty much makes them the worst things I have ever seen. I would never buy one. Bad juju.

Spirit Store Santa ClaraIt being the last full weekend before All Hallows’ Eve I expected the store to be crowded but it was not. In years past the checkout lines could reach halfway through the store but this weekend there was no waiting. It could be a sign of the economic times, or simply that the perennial big box stores, party supply stores, and online shopping have pulled customers away. It’s quite ironic to think about a downturn at the Spirit stores since their modus operandi is to exploit real estate doldrums by setting up for a few weeks a year in large vacant buildings. The Santa Clara store is in the old Mervyns building. Mervyns is the Bay Area-based department store chain founded in 1949 which sadly filed for bankruptcy, liquidated its assets, and closed all its stores last year. Oddly the liquidation began last Halloween.

We did our part for Spirit. My son got stunner shades, a dollar sign medallion, and a sparkling three-finger ring. We didn’t spend much but he came out looking like a million bucks. Afterwards we went next door to Walgreens drug store for some unrelated groceries and naturally wandered down the Halloween aisle. There in the middle of the aisle was the following display. Now that’s just wrong.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite costume store, Debbie Lyn’s Costumes in Sunnyvale, formerly Debbie Lyn’s Closet. They used to be right on El Camino Real but they moved last year not far away to 822 E Evelyn Ave, Sunnyvale, CA 94087. They’re grandmothered into this blog as former residents of El Camino. They have a staggering inventory of high-quality rental theatrical costumes available year round. My wife loves telling the story of her first time there when she spotted a man in a business suit…wearing a banana costume. He was an Asian businessman no less, which just takes the whole thing to a whole ‘nother level, but I won’t go there.

The legend of La Llorona or “the weeping woman” persists throughout Latin America. Details and origins vary but the gist is she was a woman who centuries ago drowned her children in a fit of passion and now wanders the land for eternity weeping in anguish,  searching for their souls. Those unlucky few who encounter her under a full moon are terror-stricken, and misbehaving children are warned that she’ll get them. California scholar Craig Chalquist writes in his book Deep California that she is especially bound to El Camino Real because of its history of conquest and injustice. I can’t say for sure what will happen but I will say that if you intend to shop for a frazzled Kate plus zombie eight costume, you might want to get yourself to the Spirit store before this weekend is over because Monday is el Día de los Muertos [pdf]—”Day of the Dead” or “All Souls’ Day”—another mainstay of Latin American culture. And did I mention there will be a full moon that day? Who knows, La Llorona might be out, doing some post-Halloween bargain-hunting.

Update: That’s the spirit, Octomom!

Spirit Halloween Stores


Phone: 408-615-8309


Phone: 408-730-5298


Phone: 650-306-9514

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