Local ShoppingHow Halloween became a $10B business for retailers

How Halloween became a $10B business for retailers

Driving through a neighborhood in October, it isn’t uncommon to find houses adorned in larger-than-life skeletons, inflatable characters, animatronics and other items to get into the spooky spirit of the season.

Halloween decorations have increasingly grown in popularity over the years and it’s become a lucrative opportunity for retailers.

Nearly 70% of consumers plan on celebrating Halloween this year, sending projected spend on the category to $10.6 billion, up from $10.1 billion in 2021, according to a survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics and the National Retail Federation. One of the most popular ways consumers plan to celebrate the holiday is through outdoor decorations, coming only second to candy, the survey found.

Similarly, a LendingTree survey released earlier this month found that 87% of consumers plan to spend on Halloween this year, a 16% increase from last year, with about 40% saying they’ll spend on outdoor decorations.

But Halloween wasn’t always a holiday where consumers shelled out a lot for decorations and other items.

So how did this holiday become a more than $10 billion business?

Early Halloween traditions in the U.S.

The history of Halloween dates back centuries and became popular in North America following the arrival of Irish and Scottish immigrants to the U.S. in the 19th century. 

By the early 1900s, Halloween was a holiday geared toward adults hosting parties, according to Mark B. Ledenbach, a long-time collector of Halloween antiques and author of “Vintage Halloween Collectibles: An Identification and Price Guide.” At the parties, adults would play games like Bridge, Mahjong and Canasta and add decorations to their homes. The decorations, which featured scary imagery, were inexpensive and consumers would often throw them away after the parties ended. 

Permission granted by Mark B. Ledenbach


During this period, there were three major manufacturers of decorations: The Beistle Company, Dennison Manufacturing (which merged with Avery International in 1990) and Gibson (which was sold to American Greetings in 2000). Dennison, which was based in Framingham, Massachusetts, produced the “Bogie Book,” which described ways consumers could plan, prepare and decorate for Halloween parties.

But as time progressed, the holiday began to move away from being a night for adults.

In the mid-’30s Halloween slowly started to change in the U.S. and was accelerated even further after World War II ended. The holiday shifted from being adult-focused to being catered to kids, by parents hosting children’s Halloween parties and schools offering events around the day.

Permission granted by Mark B. Ledenbach


As a result, decorations began to change, depicting friendlier imagery versus scary. This shift was further propelled by pop culture with the introduction of “Wendy the Good Little Witch” and “Casper the Friendly Ghost” by Harvey Comics. And while some adults still hosted their own Halloween parties, the big three manufacturers directed their focus away from that consumer segment and to family-friendly imagery.

Decorating for the holiday slowly became more mainstream. In 1958, First Lady Mamie Eisenhower decorated the White House for Halloween for the first time, featuring skeletons, jack-o-lanterns, dried corn and pumpkins.

Exterior Halloween decorations on the White House

The White House Halloween decorations in 2013

Mark Wilson via Getty Images


Still, the widespread extravagant displays on the outside of homes were years away. 

There was a period of time in the 1960s, ’70s and even ’80s “where it would be more unusual for homes to have any Halloween decorations,” Ledenbach said. “It wouldn’t be shocking, but it would be unusual.”

Over the years, outdoor decorations became more common and the imagery depicted changed as well. Driven by movies like “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” Halloween products became much more violent and gory.

More recently, adoption of large outdoor displays for the occasion has only accelerated.

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