Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween 2011

I have made it through another Halloween retail season. Halloween has yet to come, as I begin to write this, but most of this season's parties have passed, and so too the peak of Halloween purchasing. I have survived quite unscathed, the crucible that is the Wed-Saturday prior to Halloween. Americans are such procrastinators, is the new cliché. Sales were brisk, but still only 40% compared to last season. People loved the shop, many remarking what a cool store we had built, many hoping we would continue. We built the coolest Halloween store in the Twin Cities, and if it is indeed that, it can be said to be the coolest Halloween store in the Midwest. Sales per customer were high, a high percentage of those walking through did buy; had we had the traffic we had last year in Uptown, I'm confident we would have had the $400,000 October I speculated about, in a previous post. Instead, by most accounts, the Twin Cities emptied out the corporate costume boxes Halloween Express, Party City and Spirit Halloween, and left our locally owned and operated one-site shop looking like it was day one.

The reasons for our low sales are many. There is the economy, of course, a general sentiment of dreariness about the future of the economy, and a sense of malaise about the future of America. There was road construction clogging an already difficult series of intersections. There is a glut of Halloween merchandise in the metro, every corporate retail outlet feeding at the $6-7 billion trough, a bubble of pop-ups dotting the landscape not five minutes drive from any of the 2.5 million people living in suburbia. The Vikings have sucked, literally attempting to siphon a billion dollars through the funnel that is the State Legislature, to fund a fancy new stadium, at the same time they are playing some of the worst football in franchise history. And the great x-factor that I could not fully admit until recently, that many people have a deep aversion to traveling downtown to shop, no matter that we are at the edge of downtown right next to I-35, and there is plenty of parking. Despite that there were cameras and reporters from three of the four major local stations in the building, one of them twice, in our 45 days of operation. Only some x-factor greater than this deeply ingrained, mostly unconscious aversion, could overcome it, turning collective consciousness our way, which at least this one radical anarchist gorilla gardening Halloween store manager couldn't quite provide.

Though there must be some new kind of x-factor I can't quite name, at play, as this past week, one woman gave me her number without me asking, and another woman asked me out - neither of which experience has ever happened to me - and I asked out another woman who said yes, which hasn't happened in more than three years, and there is another woman who is clearly interested, and another I am very interested in who seems interested in me. All of them strong, independent, beautiful women. Though not a one of them really knowing anything about my life away from the Halloween store - and that bit of magic, and the meager income stream it provides, is about to dry up. And it's not clear that it would be good to inflict this blog on any of them. And certainly not the condition of my house.

I went with one of the partners to several neighborhood bars, Saturday night, at the end of our passage through the crucible. I wore the orange afro and the funky jacket and shoes, he wore a high-quality chimpanzee mask and shirt. We found very little joy where we went. We found partially empty, and out-of-business bars. We found exceptionally drunk people. In one bar, we were roundly ignored, with a low-grade sullen hostility. The partner remarked on it, and I reminded him that there is opportunity in every moment, and I closed my eyes and danced at the bar to the band playing in the next room. One guy approached the partner in awe, astounded that any man would wear a full-on monkey mask to a bar. It's Halloween, I thought, and kept dancing.

I didn't actually dance much, the last two weeks, outside the store. We found two young men whose child-like enthusiasm was a better fit, than my curious style that is as much a challenge; their joy was more appreciated than my, do you see what joy looks like. That, and I've eaten more CAFO beef the past two months than I have the past four years. And my tolerance for alcohol is higher than it has been since college. And the weed has passed from ally to something like a habit. I never did put together that band I kept thinking about. My memory has been less than pristine, in the minutia. I'm glad, actually, to be done with the store, though just as sad, to have to tear down something that in a way is so beautiful. Glad to be done with it though, so I can move on. HD Masks is calling. So to, the OWS. And some quiet solitude to clarify a few things, to pull back a bit and think. There are some writing ideas floating about, trails to be followed. Though I'd rather get laid this winter and otherwise actively participate in the world, than do the semi-dissolute monk thing like I did last winter. There seem to be some women who might like to help me with that. I'd rather not muck it up with gloom.

(Have I been as mistaken about the future of this country, as I have been about the immediate potential of this business, and consumer spending this Halloween?)

"It's hard to dance with a devil on your back," sings Florence and the Machine, at 12:51 am. "Shake it up, shake it off," I hear her singing, or something like that. That same partner of the monkey suit called me a fatalist, the other day. I couldn't disagree with him. It's true, my perception of the collapse of the culture has led me to darken my outlook about my own path, to dissipation. The call to dissolution has been loud. And then I awaken to discover anew that my life is full of beauty and abundance, and I am grateful, and whole new paths of opportunity open up that I had not previously considered possible.

Would I manage the coolest Halloween store in the Midwest, again? The only reason I do it, aside from the fact that it is my only money making opportunity right now, is the people. I love the people, the customers and my staff. I am also sick of them, at this point. It seems to me that many in these new generations, the Y and the millennial, think that showing up when you say you are going to show up means showing up when you feel like it. That, and confiscating their phone might be the only way to keep their consciousness out of it. Many people walking through the doors are deeply disrespectful, opening up random packaging and throwing the contents on the floor, stealing accessories from costumes, stealing wigs and anything small enough to conceal. I have hired six black folk the past two years, good people, and every single one of them skipped out. I have met a few good, solid black folk, and a great many who feel a sense of entitlement as egregiously foul as any, equally unearned. Despite the considerably fewer numbers of people walking through the doors, there have been a far greater number of people this year who were simply difficult, acting like if we didn't take 50% or more off every item, we were stealing from them, whining and contemptuous like little brats. That, and the point of sale system we use is designed by Canadians, who do not know the meaning of the word efficiency, who also feel themselves superior. How many people came to the counter, acting like they were forced to buy a costume?

Still, my favorite thing is standing at the register, talking with and teasing and flirting with the customers, with those who are open to it. Many are surprised to find the staff so friendly. It really is a different place, where people love to be, and the staff mostly do love to be here. There is more joy in this building than in any retail establishment I have ever encountered. Having facilitated that is worth something, I think.

Happy Halloween.

1 comment:

Jeff Z said...

Happy Halloween WHD!

It was a truly cool store. You're right about that. Discussing the location with others- the consensus is that the location was a killer. U of M students don't want to cross the freeway, downtown people won't venture that far from their office. Suburbanites won't go anywhere they see a parking meter unless it's in Uptown.

It was a good shot- you gave it a lot of life. I don't know what more could have been done.

BTW- I think you're spot-on in your assessment of the state of the country and the entitled attitudes of Amuricans. On the downslope of decline we'll all have to be more self-sufficent, and that won't leave a lot of room for attitude. You're already living it- keep on telling it like it is for those who aren't, but will be someday soon.

also BTW- I have a very nice bathroom sink I need to give away. Let me know when I can drop it off. You're going to need plumbing when the ladies start staying over.