Shoppers still have some time to browse aisles at their leisure, but costume-finding crunch time is almost here.
Most Halloween stores have been open for at least a month, stocked full of witch hats, sexy nurse outfits and pirate ensembles. But although more people dress up for Halloween each year, most still wait until the last minute.
Catering to that final rush requires months of planning.
"What other retail stores take 12 months to perfect, we have to do in two months," said Tonia Farinha, director of marketing for the West Coast Division office of Spirit Halloween Superstores. "You can't open 540 stores without planning and perfect execution."
Consumers will spend about $5.07 billion this year on Halloween fare, according to the National Retail Federation, a Washington, D.C.-based trade group. This year's estimate is a 2 percent increase over the $4.96 billion spent last year.
"Halloween should give retailers a nice boost in sales as they open the crucial fourth quarter," said Tracy Mullin, president and chief executive of the National Retail Federation.
The group also predicts that individual Halloween shoppers will spend an average of $64.82 in 2007, a 10 percent jump compared with $59.06 one year ago.
Seasonal stores are also growing. Spirit Superstores is operating 540 stores this year, more than double the 249 stores it had in 2004.
The chain has 30 stores in the Bay
Farinha said most of the growth comes from adults, who have started dressing up more in recent years. Some of the most popular costumes are the "sexy, flirty" variety for women.
"Halloween is the one time of year you act as crazy and look as crazy as you want, and it's perfectly acceptable," said Stephan Brown, manager of Halloween Headquarters in Walnut Creek.
Different "must-have" costumes come out every year, usually tied to the year's most popular movies or television shows, Farinha said. This year, those would be "Superman," "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Hannah Montana."
"More than half the people who come in here don't know what they're looking for," Brown said. "I love helping find what they want. I give a little girl a princess costume, and she loves it. That's the best part of the job."
This is Brown's sixth year working for Halloween Headquarters, a Dixon-based chain that is operating 10 stores in the Bay Area this year.
Brown, a student at Skyline College in San Bruno, started out as a cashier. He takes classes during the spring and summer and takes off the fall semester to accommodate the Halloween retail season.
"It's something I can rely on every year," he said. "We get a lot of returning employees."
Retailers such as Spirit and Halloween Headquarters start opening their sites in late August and early September.
Finding store locations depends on what empty properties are available for short-term leases, Farinha said.
"We try to go back to repeat locations," she said. "We just scout the area for locations that meet our criteria, locations that are visible to customers and have high traffic."
The busiest days are normally Halloween and the day before. Most stores close a day or two after Halloween, after a 50 percent off sale.
Halloween Headquarters stores some of its leftover merchandise at a warehouse in Dixon or sells it at its only year-round location, in Santa Cruz.
"We don't have to sell everything," Brown said. "Certain items we can sell year after year. A tombstone is a tombstone."
Halloween retailers use the off-season to buy products and find leases for the next season.
"We have a huge team that work preparing these stores all year around," Farinha said. "As soon as we close, we immediately start planning for 2008."