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Val Cohn and husband Richard run the seasonal Spirit Halloween store in Woodbury.

Seasonal costume business sets up shop in Woodbury

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Halloween is the second biggest holiday for retailers in the nation, after Christmas, and the owner of Woodbury retailer Spirit Halloween said hot costumes this year include "Alice in Wonderland" characters, "Toy Story" characters and Michael Jackson.

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Store owners Richard and Val Cohn, who own four more stores across the Twin Cities, are in business for six weeks a year. The remainder of the year is spent traveling, and 2010 will find them in Egypt.

The business has grown a lot since the couple opened their first store in Eden Prairie 17 years ago. Val worked as a bank branch manager and Richard was in advertising. After spending time in California at a friend's Halloween store, Richard's buddy suggested opening a store in Minnesota.

The couple's son, Matt, manages the Twin Cities stores.

Halloween seems to be recession-proof, Val said. Last year was their best year. Business was also up after Sept. 11, 2001.

"It's a fantasy world," she said. "One night a year you can be someone else. There's no pressure, not like it is at Christmas."

Residents in neighborhoods compete to see who has the best and scariest decorations, she said.

The home décor part of the business is growing, she said, but the number of costumes the store sells is growing even faster.

People from 18 to 30, especially women, are buying more costumes each year in the risqué category with "Flirty French Maid" as one example.

It's still true that more women than men like the idea of wearing costumes and "drag their husbands in," she said.

Once the men see what's available, they go for costumes that complement their wives and girlfriends, or go off on their own tangent with Mafia gangsters, cops, bikers, prisoners and hippie clothes with prices ranging from $25 to $100.

If all that is needed is a mask to wear while escorting kids around the neighborhood, President Obama and Sarah Palin masks are some of the choices.

Popular movies and television shows also spark costume interest and Star Wars and G.I. Joe are still popular.

Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" will debut in March and is sparking interest in costumes such "Queen of Hearts" and "Mushroom Alice" that are adult versions of those worn in the child's story.

"Toy Story" costumes are selling well and there's a demand for Michael Jackson costumes, Cohn said.

Tried and true costumes also sell well and if people make their own costumes, they can buy the trimmings.

Barb Carmody bought a crown last week because her granddaughter is dressing up as Snow White. Carmody will be "the wicked queen."

A hot item this year are "zombie babies" that audibly cry.

"They were my favorite thing when I came to work at the store," said Nicole Svaleson, who works in the store across from Wal-Mart. "They're creepy, but they're still cute," she said.

The store is also asking customers to donate $2 to Spirit of Children, the company's fundraiser for Shriners' Children's Hospital.

For information about Spirit Halloween call 1-800-COSTUME or go to the store's Website at spirithalloween.com. Spirit Halloween stores are in Woodbury, across from Wal-Mart and near Target.

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Judy Spooner is the longest-serving staff writer at the South Washington County Bulletin. Spooner, who covers education and features in addition to writing a weekly column, has been with the newspaper for over 30 years.
(651) 459-7600
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