Scary business: When haunting is for life, not just for Halloween

Story highlights

  • Halloween is just a wild weekend for most, but for others it's a year-long occupation
  • Raven's Grin Inn in the U.S. is a haunted home that scares it guests right through the summer
  • Halloween Mart, which occupies a 25,000 square feet store in Las Vegas, is open 365 days a year

When the jack-o'-lanterns have all burned out and the candy wrappers have been swept away, Jim Warfield won't be hanging a "closed" sign in the window of the Raven's Grin Inn, the haunted mansion he runs in the small Illinois town of Mount Carroll.

With its twisted passageways, secret tunnels and reported sightings of a "Lady in White," the eerie 19th-century house draws visitors all year long -- and Warfield accommodates them.

"I always had a lot of fun with Halloween. I couldn't figure out why we could only do one week or one night," says the 63-year-old Warfield, who escorts tours through the spooky mansion all year, even when summer is in full swing. "Why not try to have as much fun as you can?"

Read: Move over, kids. Halloween is for grownups

For those who relish the macabre and dressing up, October 31 doesn't have to spell the end of the fright season. From ghostly attractions to Halloween specialty shops, a small contingent of businesses can make it a year-long holiday.

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Once November hits, Heather George, vice president of Halloween Mart, a store that sells costumes, decorations and props, barely has time to take a breath before she's at her first trade show, getting ready to place orders for the next Halloween season.

Halloween Mart, which occupies 25,000 square feet of retail space in Las Vegas, is open year-round. October is by far the store's busiest month, she says, but business is brisk the rest of the year.

"Vegas is a party town where everyone is always dressing up. There's always a little more fun going on. All the bars and nightclubs do themed events in the off-season," says George.

Quiz: Know your ghosts from your goblins?

Being a year-round operation gives the massive store, which also houses a warehouse for its online business, an edge over the flurry of temporary shops that pop up during the Halloween season.

"We cater to our clientele. We'll stock a lot more product than a temporary store will ever stock," George says, adding that the store's own "haunted hallway" is an attraction in itself.

The idea of Halloween as a year-round industry is growing, albeit slowly, she says. "I don't think it's everywhere but I do see more and more types of retailers carrying this type of product in the off-season."

Fast-growing holiday

Nearly three-quarters of Americans will celebrate Halloween this year, according to a survey conducted for the National Retail Federation (NRF). That's up from just over 50% in 2005.

The NRF estimates Halloween spending will reach a record $8 billion this year. The holiday is also growing outside of the U.S., notably in the UK, where Planet Retail estimates Halloween sales will rise to almost $549 million this year.

Patrick Konopelski, president of the Haunted Attraction Association, an organization representing more than 2,500 haunts, links the ever-growing popularity of Halloween to the desire to be entertained.

Read more: How to shoot frighteningly good photos this Halloween

"People today more than ever want to experience life," he says. Halloween-inspired attractions like haunts aren't just a passing fad. They're "now part of the culture," says Konopelski.

Year-round attractions are still in the minority, but that's mainly due to their business models. It just isn't financially feasible for large attractions, which can be expensive to run, to stay open all year, Konopelski says.

For example, Shocktoberfest, a scream park he owns, employs as many as 100 people. "When you have that many people on payroll you have to put through thousands and thousands of people, and a short season is incredibly efficient," he says.

But the demand is there, he says. "This generation is a non-spectator generation. They want to participate in an experience."

For a small operator like Warfield, it makes sense to keep going the way he has. Up to a dozen people might help out around Halloween, but for the rest of the year, he's a one-man show.

Whether in June or October, he starts every tour in the same place. Standing in the parlor, he begins telling the history of the house of horrors in his gravelly voice.

And even though he's been at it for a quarter-century, it doesn't get tiresome. "I never get tired of hearing people laughing and screaming," he says. "I have tremendous fun. No one has more fun than I do. I hope to be doing this when I'm 95 years old."

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