Havin' A Party – For Twenty-Five Years

Posted on 08. Dec, 2009 by in Uncategorized

by Emily Johnson

October 28, 2009

In 1984, a sign with the words Coming Soon marked a storefront window in the small Brooklyn community of Canarsie. A passerby asked new owner Larry Scott what kind of store it would be.

“Parties,” said Scott.

“Parties?” the man said. “I give you two months to stay in business.”

Twenty-five years later, Havin’ A Party is still very much alive, and doing a brisk business during the busiest time of the year: Halloween.

Scott, 50, has weathered the evolution of the costume business. Halloween is no longer just for kids – adults have increasingly joined in the fun, and between decorations, costumes, and candy, the holiday has grown into a multibillion-dollar industry now dominated by overseas manufacturers. Industry research firm IBISWorld predicts that Halloween sales will generate a record $6 billion in 2009, up from $5.77 billion last year.

Scott has adjusted.

“We used to make our own costumes,” said Scott, who once employed four or five seamstresses to keep up with demand during the Halloween season. “It was a different business then.”

Increased demand for costumes that require licensing – things like Darth Vader, Batman, and Harry Potter – has made homemade witch and vampire costumes impractical.

Scott runs the store with the help of his wife Robin, 48, and sometimes their three sons, ages 16, 21 and 23.  The front room contains a standard inventory of fake blood, politician masks (President Obama is a favorite) and fangs.  The back rooms, however, overflow with costumes that let adults show their sexy sides on the scariest night of the year.

An “Eve” costume, complete with fig leaf-covered miniskirt and a plush serpent, is one of their biggest sellers. “She has a strong penchant for forbidden fruit,” the package reads.

A National Retail Federation (NRF) survey said that of the 105 million Americans who plan to dress up for Halloween this year, 45% are adults.

A significant portion of the costume trade is done online now as major discount websites such as Costume Hub ship all over the U.S. and Canada. That might seem like bad news for a small, outer-borough borough family store, but Scott said it has proven to be strangely helpful.

“It always gets busy right at the last minute because people get their costumes they ordered online and they’re the wrong size,” he said.

Many of the foreign-made costumes are sized small to save on fabric, he said. He advised consumers to go several sizes up.

“We try not to show customers the size because they get upset,” he said with a laugh.

The sputtering economy hasn’t affected Havin’ A Party much so far.

“You don’t really notice it in this type of business,” said Matt Scott, 21. “People still spend money on fun and leisure.”

Even last year, when the economic outlook was worse, total Halloween sales jumped 5.1 percent from 2007.

Customer loyalty has helped the business survive the downturn.

“He’s the best,” said Shanna Barodin, 48, who started shopping at Havin’ A Party 23 years ago. She bought a Zorro costume from the store Wednesday. When Larry Scott asked about her family and knocked a little off the price, she added, “See? That’s why he’s the best.”

Matt and Austin, 16, showed an encyclopedic knowledge of the store as they helped customers find their way around. They know the place backward and forward, said mom Robin.

“I used to nurse them in the back room,” she said.

Her husband smiled as he remembered the man who predicted, all those years ago, that the party business would be his downfall.

“I see that guy once in awhile,” he said. “He still buys our stuff.”

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