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Blood and cash

The business of Halloween

BOO: Joe Mills of Olympia's Spirit, a specialty Halloween store that starts preparing for business in August. Photo credit: Brett Cihon

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Lets see ... are you going with the dapper Grave Groom or the literary Lord Voldermort? Or maybe show some chest hair and settle on the Smokin' Hot Fireman? The only thing that's certain is last year's skimpy King of the Caves costume didn't go over too well with the ladies.

Damn. Choices, choices, choices.

Luckily, a Halloween costume crisis is easily mitigated by experts like Joe Mills.

"I recommend the quarts of blood," says Mills. "Everybody needs quarts of blood."

Mills is a store manager for Spirit, a Halloween specialty store. From sexy costumes to toddler makeup, animatronics to quarts of fake blood, Spirit stores satisfy all things Halloween. With thirty locations in Washington alone, Spirit workers certainly have experience in handling requests.

"The other week a women wanted to be a full-force dragon," says Mills, talking loudly over the techno music and ghoulish screams that make up Spirit's Olympia location. "We hooked her up with latex, a long gown and several sets of horns." 

On the outside, Mills' dyed blue hair and workplace costume don't exactly scream professionalism. But it's reliable, intelligent managers like him that help keep the seasonal specialty store running smoothly during a short selling season. Spirit's district managers first get together in June to discuss potential store locations. Then store managers like Mills hire a staff and build store displays as fast as they can.

"In mid-August the store is completely empty and we have to build the pegboards and walls and start putting up merchandise," says Mills. 

With Washington locations of Spirit opening Sept. 3, Mills didn't have long before the store needed to run at full speed. Really full speed. The dark interior of Olympia's Spirit is dotted with moving parts. Displays of flying zombie babies and booths with animated skeletons give the store (ironically) a live feel.  And though Spirit offers a number of costumes, Mills says it's the animatronics that are the best sellers.

"We had a jumping spider that lunged at you as you walked by," says Mills. "Too bad we're all sold out of those."

Helping people pick out their costume is Mills', "favorite game to play," he tells me. Sometimes though, he or some of Spirit's other employees just have to sigh when they field a request.

"Some guy came in here wanting to be a gay chef," says Mills. "I handed him one of my personal rainbow pins and said good luck, I really don't know how to help you."

Dressing up in costume and listening to Bobby Picket's "Monster Bash" each day has not yet deterred Mills from enjoying Halloween. He likes his job and is ready for the big day. He intends to take Oct. 30 off early and definitely plans to dress up, remixing a classic store costume with true, expert knowledge. 

"I'm going to be remixing a fairy," says Mills. "Make a male version of the female costume and add sort of a demon mix. Very colorful and fun."

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