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Spirit Halloween CEO Steven Silverstein loves Halloween — and it’s his job to make sure you do too.

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peter horvath
Halloween comes only once a year, but if you’re Steven Silverstein, CEO of Spirit Halloween’s pop-up, or seasonal, costume and decoration stores, the witching hour is 24/7, 365. A $6 billion industry, Halloween is no longer merely child’s play, and Silverstein’s vision — 970 stores in the United States and Canada, open from Labor Day until Nov. 1 — is more treat than trick, especially from a financial standpoint. Launched in 1983, Spirit Halloween — a division of novelty-gift retailer Spencer Gifts based in Egg Harbor Township, N.J. — is a niche market booming annually for Silverstein, an effervescent businessman who still loves to play dress-up each October. American Way caught up with Silverstein about the business of “boo!”

American Way: A pop-up store like Spirit is kind of like the Christmas lots of yesteryear, only filled with ghost costumes and fake blood.
Steven Silverstein: We’re actually a whole new business model. It’s not just a guy going, “Hey, it’s almost Halloween, let’s open a store!” It’s not like we work two months of the year and siesta the other 10. That would be nice, but it’s not the reality.

AW: What are you doing the rest of the year?

Halloween by the Numbers
41 million The number of children in the United States ages 5 to 14, seen as the prime trick-or-treat demographic
1.1 billion The amount, in pounds, of pumpkins grown in the U.S. in 2010
24.7 pounds The amount of candy consumed by the average American last year (Source: U.S. Census)
SS: When we close our brick-and-mortar stores in November, we immediately begin shopping for the next Halloween’s costumes. There’s no downtime at all. We’re checking trends and reading up on pop culture for what will be hot the same time next year. We’re looking at what real estate might be available for next year’s stores. As Labor Day gets closer, we’re hiring 20,000 employees for 970 stores and fully constructing and merchandising all those locations.

AW: Despite the rough economy, Americans spent almost $6 billion last Halloween. How is that possible?
SS: Halloween has become a national party. It’s the great escape — a relatively cheap thrill that everyone can participate in. Halloween used to be just for kids, but I think the harder our times, the more adults want to be wizards and princesses and movie stars and monsters too. No matter what you are the rest of the year, on Halloween you can be anything you want to be.

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AW: So you’re creating jobs, stimulating the economy and making people feel good about their lives. Are you running for office?
SS: [Laughs] I don’t think that’s in the cards, though we would like to introduce legislation that makes Halloween the last Saturday of October, instead of Oct. 31. That would be safer for kids.

AW: What are some of this year’s hot costumes?
SS: It’s a big year for superheroes, thanks to the movies — Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern, Transformers — but I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw some Lady Gagas. And there might be a couple of Charlie Sheens out there too.
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AW: Tell me about the work Spirit does with hospitals every year.
SS: When I was a kid, Halloween was about trick-or-treating, filling up a garbage bag with candy, but there are kids who are really sick [and] can’t do that. So we go to these hospitals and bring costumes for all of the kids and food and makeup and arts and crafts and throw a great party for them. You talk about needing a great escape — watch a sick child dress up like a princess and feel happy and healthy and full of joy for an hour. That is the best part of the job for me.