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Chris Jones

Retailers Get a Treat, Election Combining with Halloween to Make for Profitable Times

1 November 2004

Be it spooky ghouls and goblins or the prospect of four years under whichever polarizing presidential candidate has most drawn your ire, there's plenty to be afraid of over the next few days.

And while Halloween and Election Day have little else in common, both events have prompted at least one shared activity among many Americans this year: expressing their opinions and personalities at the cash register.

Halloween has long been a busy holiday for retailers to sell the latest costume craze or bags of candy for young trick or treaters. But this year, Election Day-themed products have also gained a surprisingly strong following among shoppers.

"It's blown me away how successful they were," said Hard Rock Hotel Retail Director Krista Tye, who has recently kept stores at the Las Vegas resort stocked with election-themed T-shirts and products. "We've sold about $38,000 worth of voting memorabilia within a six-week period."

The Las Vegas hotel-casino sells three different election T-shirts: "Rock the Vote," a $12 offering sponsored by members of the music industry; rapper Sean Combs' $30 "Vote or Die" shirt; and Hard Rock's own "United We Rock," which costs $18.

Hard Rock initially hoped to sell about 200 of the shirts; as of Friday, nearly 1,400 had been sold, with each selection performing equally well, Tye said., a Las Vegas-based online retailer, put a dozen election-related shirts on the market this summer at $18 each; they've since accounted for 20 percent of the company's sales, Gary Cohen, director of operations, said Thursday.

"We always do topical shirts ... so to us it was a no-brainer," said Cohen, whose company has also capitalized on T-shirts spoofing Britney Spears' weddings, Christopher Reeve's death and New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey's adulterous affair with another man, among other subjects.

Those on both sides of the political debate are buying shirts, Cohen added.

"There's been a great demand for anti-Kerry T-shirts," Cohen said of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic Party's presidential nominee. "I don't think it surprised us, but there are a lot more easy shots to take at a guy like George Bush."

One shirt features President Bush making a peace sign above the caption, "I bet you'll vote this time, hippie." Another reads, "Vote for Kerry (Paid for by al-Qaeda)." Not surprisingly, one of's best sellers takes aim at those who don't like either candidate.

"One that says, `Do we have to have a president?' has been one of our most popular selections, tapping into the idea that there was no good choice" this year, Cohen said.

The Washington-based National Retail Federation doesn't track election-themed product sales, but spokeswoman Ellen Tolley said she's not surprised by their current popularity.

"When consumers pay more attention to any one item or issue, they feel more passionate about spending money on it. It could be Halloween, the election, Christmas or the Super Bowl," Tolley said.

Others are most passionate about Halloween, which the federation expects will produce $3.12 billion in consumer spending, making it the sixth-busiest shopping holiday of the year.

"Halloween is a nice diversion from the election," Tolley said. "It gets consumers on the same page and ready to enjoy each others' company without any hotly contested discussion."

Don't think for a moment Halloween is just for kids. Instead, the holiday has become increasingly popular among young adults who buy costumes and decorations and throw holiday parties.

"It's more about their good time," Tolley said. "Yeah, they might hand out candy to kids on Sunday night, but they're going to go out and party on Saturday night first."

Robert Miller, a retail expert from Central Michigan University, agrees. He estimates about 66 percent of adults ages 18 to 40 will wear costumes this year, up from 25 percent in 1980.

"Halloween is a one-night festival of fantasy," Miller said. "People who are stressed and/or emotionally restrained have the opportunity to let loose. They get spooky, scary, naughty and even sexy without being judged."

If only the presidential candidates could get off that easily.