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How Thrift Stores Scare Up Halloween Cash

BOSTON (MainStreet) -- Thrift store Halloween costumes do a good job changing their buyer's identity for a night, but they turn thrift stores from modest businesses to bustling industries with similarly scary efficiency.

Halloween is basically thrift store Christmas. Americans spent $6 billion on costumes, decorations and treats last Halloween, according to market research firm IBISWorld, and thrift stores are taking home an increasingly large portion of the loot.

Eleven months of the year, a thrift store is a thrift store; in October many transform into Halloween costume superstores.

That $6 billion may put Halloween dead last behind Father's Day ($10.2 billion) among retail holidays and give it only 2.6% of overall holiday spending, but it disguises steady growth from $5.8 billion in 2008 while Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Easter and Father's Day spending all declined between 2008 and 2009. While Mother's Day alone taking a more than $2 billion hit during that span, Halloween spending increased by $250 million.

Last year, Americans spent an average of $66.28 apiece on costumes, candy and decorations. Those aged 18 through 34 -- or the students and post-collegians who fall right into thrift stores' target Halloween demographic -- far eclipsed that by spending an average of $80 among those 18-24 and $91 among those 25-34. Those 18 through 24, however, spent only $37 on costumes, which is under the $38 national average and far below the $43 spent by potential parents aged 25 to 55.

The more than 30,000 resale, consignment and thrift shops that the National Association of Resale and Thrift Association counts in the U.S. deserve at least some of the credit for that lowball costume figure. Goodwill Industries International, which has 2,600 stores in the U.S. and Canada and is opening 20 more this month, says Halloween sales accounted for a sizable chunk of its $2.3 billion store revenue last year and the 7.25% jump in revenue from 2009.

"Within the past two years, we've seen 9.8% of all of our sales during the retail year are attributed to Halloween," says Lauren Lawson, a spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries. "We've been tracking our sales and donation data for each of the autonomous stores over the last decade and October has the most sales volume of any month."

The source of that $235 million bump is especially apparent in student-heavy towns such as Boston, where Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries -- Goodwill's founding branch and one of its 165 autonomous regional headquarters -- says revenue increases 20% in October thanks to Halloween sales. Morgan Goodwill is trying to further capitalize on the costumed student body by offering 50% discounts on Labor Day weekend and 25% savings to college students, faculty and staff throughout September.

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