Halloween: It's thrift store Christmas

Halloween doesn't spook operators of thrift stores in northern Nevada.

In fact, it's proving to be a good time for some of them to get rid of god-awful clothing that wouldn't stand a chance with consumers the rest of the year.

The October holiday is one of the busiest times of the year for thrift and secondhand stores throughout the region as budget-minded consumers track down low-cost costumes and accessories or used worn clothing to make their own costumes.

David Van Bockel, district manager for Nevada's eight Savers stores, says the company's stores in northern Nevada typically see a 40 percent increase in business in October. The Savers stores at Oddie Boulevard and Kietzke Lane even outperform all six of the company's Las Vegas locations in October.

"Down here it's Halloween every day," Van Bockel quips from his Las Vegas office.

Halloween costumes and accessories such as fake weaponry, tattoos, wigs and makeup are the few items Savers purchases new, Van Bockel notes.

Almost everything else in the company's Nevada stores is purchased from items that are donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of northern and southern Nevada and the Multiple Sclerosis Society. The runup in sales allows Savers, a for-profit thrift chain headquartered at Bellevue, Wash., to purchase more items and keep its clothing racks stocked throughout the year.

And many of those items are strategically repositioned for Halloween. Poor-selling clothing gaudy dresses, coveralls and overalls and the like are boxed and stored for Halloween, when they suddenly become high-demand items. About 10 percent of Halloween inventory at Savers comes from back stock.

To accommodate the flood of shoppers, Savers dedicates a large section of floor space for Halloween costumes and also employs full-time costume consultants to help shoppers piece together good outfits.

"We do that to give a great selection of new costumes or new accessories you can match with a used costume or used outfit," Van Bockel says. "We offer something for everybody; if you only can afford $10, you can find that in our store. If you want to spend $30 to $40, you also can find that in our store."

October, however, isn't the only month that sees a rise in sales for the thrift store chain.

Burners headed to the Black Rock Desert with their elaborate costumers, and fans of Hot August Nights also lead to an increase in sales for Savers.

October also is a crucial month for thrift-store sales for HSI/Washoe Ability Resource Center (formerly High Sierra Industries and Washoe Association for Retarded Citizens), says Dana MacDonald, business development officer. October shows about a 20 percent increase over the organization's flattest month, which usually is December.

WARC's three thrift stores in the Truckee Meadows not only see a rise in clothing sales, but also in sales of home decorations for people creating haunted houses. A customer recently purchased 50 old vinyl records at WARC that were cut into bat shapes for a rock-n-roll themed haunted house, MacDonald says.

"What customers have told me is that they are looking for items to make their houses look scary for trick-or-treaters. More people are staying home, and a lot of people are looking for items to repurpose."

HSI/Washoe Ability Resource Center also carries traditional Halloween costumes, but best-sellers this year tie into pop-culture and current events, such as Occupy Wall Street.

"One couple bought a sleeping bag to wear and mufflers for around their heads," MacDonald says.

Jessica Schneider, owner of the for-profit Junkee Clothing Exchange in Reno's Midtown district, says the last two weeks of October are especially busy as people begin congregating at her second-hand clothing store seeking alternatives to the high-priced pre-assembled costumes sold at the many Halloween stores that crop up in Reno and Sparks.

The increase in business is especially welcome at Junkee because sales sag in December second-hand clothing is not a hot Christmas gift choice, Schneider says.

The hot new costumes at Junkee: Clothes that can be readily torn and bloodied for the upcoming pub-hopping Zombie Crawl, and clothes to mimic costumes from the Natalie Portman movie "Black Swan."

"More people are on budgets this year, and bagged costumers cost like $65," Schneider says. "Our staff is trained that even if people only have $10 or $20, they will help them piece a costume together but it is hard sometimes, because they want miracles for under $20.

"In the glory days, when we all had money, you could buy a costume for $65, but today that is not what people are looking for."

Jim Peckham, executive director of Friends in Service Helping stores in Carson City, Gardnerville and Mound House, says there isn't a noticeable increase in clothing sales around Halloween, but Monica Barnum, assistant director with FISH in Elko, says the northeastern Nevada location definitely experiences larger volume of customers throughout October.

Many shoppers are from schools, companies or organizations that send a representative in to gather costumes for upcoming parties, Barnum says. Used costumes typically go fast, as do hoodies, sweatshirts and other items that can be tattered and made to look like a zombie, gravedigger or similar scariness.

FISH in Elko also runs a popular haunted house fundraiser.

"We are pretty in tune to our Halloween," Barnum says. "Halloween is really a big push for us, and we encourage people to come here often to support the thrift store and the fundraiser."


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