If there are people more persistent in their door-to-door pursuits than trick-or-treaters, it might be those who scout the country finding sites for Spirit Halloween, the growing “pop-up” holiday store division of New Jersey-based Spencer Gifts LLC.
“We have real estate people who right now are evaluating next year’s locations,” said Spirit Halloween spokeswoman Sushma Dwivedi. “For them, it’s Halloween year-round, 24-7.”
She said the company has added approximately 100 of the temporary stores annually over the past five years and now operates about 1,000 in the U.S. and Canada, including 20 this season in San Diego County. The stores systemwide this year will employ 20,000 people, up from 15,000 last year.
Spirit is the largest of several seasonal purveyors of Halloween costumes and accessories, which begin appearing around late August in vacated shopping center spaces. Among local and regional players, the market includes five county locations of RIP Halloween Store, operated by San Diego-based A&S Booksellers Inc. inside its Crown Books discount stores, most of them at former locations of the defunct Borders chain.
In the Retail Graveyard
Like its rivals, Spirit has expanded in recent years as several big-chain retailers fell by the wayside, including Circuit City, Mervyns and Linens ’n Things. “While it’s unfortunate that these other stores closed, we have been able to find some very good locations as a result,” said Dwivedi.
The privately held Spencer Gifts does not release sales figures, but is looking to lure seasonal customers well beyond Halloween. It plans this year to open 12 California locations of its recently launched Christmas seasonal concept store, Toyzam, which sells toys and games and is coming to malls in Carlsbad, Escondido and National City, according to the Toyzam LLC website.
Large mainstream retailers, such as New Jersey-based Toys R Us, have also operated temporary seasonal stores locally and nationally, although that company recently announced it would run fewer this year than the 600 it had nationwide in 2010, but more than the 90 it opened in 2009.
Because San Diego County’s overall retail vacancy rate is among the lowest among U.S. metro areas, hovering recently at a little more than 5 percent, temporary stores have not been as crucial to the bottom lines of local shopping center operators as they have in other regions.
Still, they frequently provide a steady flow of revenue from tough-to-fill strip center spaces that otherwise would be generating nothing. More importantly, they provide a customer boost that helps spur sales for neighboring businesses.
“They can be a really good driver of traffic during the holiday season,” said Bill Thaxton, senior vice president with San Diego-based Flocke & Avoyer, which oversees sales and leasing at 110 San Diego County retail properties. “It makes a difference when you’re showing a center to prospective future tenants.”
Thaxton said major retailers in the pop-up arena seek spaces in the 15,000 to 20,000-square-foot range, which can be found at numerous strip centers locally. Center operators considering temporary tenants need to weigh several factors, including costs to set up the tenant versus the income being produced, and whether the pop-up store’s presence will impact the debut timetables or location decisions of other prospective businesses.
George Whalin, president of Retail Management Consultants in Carlsbad, noted that while temporary holiday stores have become more common in recent years, they are hardly a new phenomenon.
“We’ve had pop-up Christmas stores for years,” Whalin said. “Places like the Calendar Club have been around 25 or 30 years.”