Retail Roundup: Spirit Halloween digs up a retail grave

A creepy clown stares down shoppers as they peruse the cardboard aisles of Halloween costumes at Spirit Halloween in Bay City. Oct. 12, 2019. (Michael Piwowarski/Editor-in-chief).

By Michael Piwowarski, editor-in-chief.

The Kmart on 4001 North Euclid Avenue in Bay City closed in November 2017 and, like many other Sears/Kmart stores, has remained abandoned for quite some time.

This brings to question what exactly is going to be done with all these vacant spaces, since the age of big department stores like Sears and Kmart is clearly at an end.

Spirit Halloween, a national chain of seasonal Halloween costume retailers, is known for operating in vacant retail buildings, and has particularly been prevalent over the course of the “retail apocalypse.” Among their 1,300+ locations currently operating is the former Kmart in Bay City.

However, Spirit Halloween operates on a seasonal basis. Their business model revolves around “disposable” pop-up stores: they will rent out an empty building, build an enclosed space with cardboard walls and open in August. When Halloween is over, the store will be dismantled, packed up in a truck and moved out, leaving the building empty again.

Ken Leinaar, manager of the Bay City-Saginaw-Mt. Pleasant district, says that the Spirit Halloween in Bay City has operated in different places over the last few years, including the former Younker’s at the Bay City Town Center.

“It depends on what’s available,” says Leinaar. “If we get the same spot with the same landlord and nobody’s in there, we like to go back to the same spot every year. But sometimes we don’t.”

The Bay City store takes up less than 10,000 square feet inside a massive 90,000+ square foot facility. Beyond the cardboard walls is dark, empty space; the shell of where a retail giant once stood.

Leinaar points out that these oversized buildings are the best spots for Spirit Halloween to operate in, and that the current Bay City location is an example of “a perfect Spirit store.”

“Sometimes we get a smaller store where we have to deal with walls that are in the way,” says Leinaar. “Like Younker’s last year, there were big partitions that we couldn’t move. We had to build our walls around [them] and make it a different kind of layout.”

Although it may seem unconventional to operate a 10,000 square foot popup in a building nearly ten times the size, Spirit Halloween may still be one of the most effective ways to make use of these vacant storefronts, as it operates in a particularly busy shopping season.

The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that consumers plan to spend $8.8 billion on Halloween this year. With costumes being the top spending category this year at $3.2 billion, Spirit Halloween is cashing in on the opportunity, with Fortnite among the hottest selling costume categories.

“Fortnite blew up from last year to this year and we started manufacturing Fortnite costumes ourselves,” says Leinaar. “We sell them to other Halloween stores now.”

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Ken Leinaar
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Thanks for the interview! It was great to see you that day. Our walls are pegboard not cardboard but thats okay lol. Still a great store lots of fun to be had for the next week! And a big sale Nov. 1st!

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