It’s scary, but businesses that see a sales bump around Halloween are uncertain whether to expect a trick or a treat this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Autumnal celebrations can involve large gatherings, such as costume parties, haunted houses and pumpkin patches, as well as people cramming the streets and going door to door on a hunt for candy.
But with large gatherings still deemed unsafe, just how much revenue the holiday will generate this year remains a mystery.
Some of Colorado Springs’ most highly attended Halloween events have had to make drastic changes to adhere to local and state safety guidelines; others have scaled down the scope and size of their events and those unable to adapt to a socially distanced environment have had to cancel entirely.
Event organizers of Boo at the Zoo, a family-friendly Halloween event at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo featuring treat stations, a pumpkin patch and a haunted house, said they hope to continue the event this year, though the zoo is currently working with El Paso County Public Health to work out details and have yet to make a final determination.
The Local Motive, a public party bus company that partners with local bars around Halloween to host themed bar crawls, will not host any of its Halloween events this year.
Colorado Springs’ most popular haunted houses, HellScream Haunted House and Haunted Mines, will take place under modified operations, according to the HellScream website. Visitors will be required to wear a mask in order to enter the attractions, staff will be wearing protective masks, and lines to enter will be marked to show 6-foot distancing.
Michelle Hewitt, the public health information officer for EPCPH, said the county has not issued specific guidance for businesses and individuals celebrating Halloween, but noted it’s a topic that is “top of mind” for the department. She said Public Health will be working on guidelines to help people celebrate responsibly, but said such guidelines are unlikely to include further regulations and will rather outline best practices and health recommendations.
EMMA CRAWFORD COFFIN RACES
One of the most popular and unusual Halloween events held in the Pikes Peak region each year is the Emma Crawford Coffin Races in Manitou Springs.
The event typically features a full day of Halloween festivities — the main attraction is its macabre coffin races, where costumed teams race coffin-like contraptions up Manitou Avenue. It brings as many as 12,000 people to Manitou Springs each year, many of whom visit from out of town, out of state, and sometimes out of the country.
But the format of this year’s event will be quite different, according to Mackenzie Helms, marketing coordinator for the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce.
Helms said the chamber typically funds much of the celebration using revenue from its annual Manitou Springs Colorado Wine Festival, which is typically held in July but was canceled this year because of the pandemic.
Also, with current capacity restrictions, organizers would not be able to pack the streets and sidewalks with swarms of people as they would in a normal year. So they’ve opted to ditch the coffin race component, switching to a T-shirt design contest, a costume contest and a team scavenger hunt.
Beginning Oct. 17, the chamber will release riddles and clues that direct participating teams to locations throughout town. They’ll solve the riddle, take a photo to show the task has been completed, and send it to the chamber in an email. Each completed task earns the team an entry in a drawing for prizes, and Helms said the grand prize will be a gift set of products from local Manitou Springs businesses. He said a “good number” of teams have already signed up, and they expect robust participation. The event ends on, and all submissions are due by, Oct. 25.
Though the celebration will proceed in some fashion, it will likely provide only a minor economic benefit for the town and the chamber. Without the coffin races, tourists are unlikely to visit, striking a blow to the bottom lines of hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
Its format change also impacts one of the chamber’s top fundraising opportunities.
Last year’s event, Helms said, cost the chamber about $37,000 to run, netting approximately $12,000 in profit. Revenue from the races goes toward funding future chamber events, as well as marketing efforts.
The ultimate goal for this year, Helms said, is primarily just to honor the town’s favorite Halloween tradition and provide a fun outlet for its residents.
“We don’t want to let it dwindle,” Helms said. “And with so many things — all around the country, let alone in this area — being canceled this year, we want to give people something to actually look forward to and have some fun with.”
LONG NECK PUMPKIN FARM AND DI SANTI FARMS
Since 2015, the family-owned and -operated Long Neck Pumpkin Farm has been drawing thousands of people to its property in northeast Colorado Springs for Halloween and fall-themed activities.
The farm operates about a half-acre pumpkin patch, some of the pumpkins grown on-site, the rest supplemented by a farm in Pueblo, and offers several activities like hayrides, outdoor games and a barn where storytelling takes places.
The farm is typically open to the public for five weekends in and around October, according to Kevin Longnecker, who owns the farm with his wife Candice. About 18,000 people visited the farm in 2019 and about 9,000 pumpkins were sold.
But with current capacity restrictions — the farm operates as a venue, Longnecker said, and is subject to those limitations — it has had to pivot to a reservation system that will allow groups of 175 people to be admitted onto the farm at three scheduled times per day. No walk-up visitors will be allowed and Longnecker said the limitations will result in significant declines in volume and revenue.
In non-pandemic years, the farm hosts schoolchildren on fall field trips, Longnecker said, but restrictions on schools have eliminated that business.
The events in October are the only way the Longneckers generate revenue on their property all year.
“We still need to make some level of income,” Longnecker said. “So what we’re doing will basically just get us through the year.”
Pumpkins at the farm that are not grown on the property are purchased from Di Santi Farms in Pueblo, and Longnecker said his farm substantially decreased its order this year in anticipation of decreased attendance.
But the overall impact the pandemic will have on pumpkin farmers remains to be seen.
Dominic Di Santi, the farm manager for Di Santi Farms, said while some of its pumpkins are sold to pumpkin patches, the vast majority are sold to grocery chains that then sell them to individuals.
He said sales of other Di Santi crops have been strong throughout the pandemic and there’s currently no reason to believe individual pumpkin purchases will suffer in the coming months.
“It’s just too early to tell what the market is going to be like and what the demand is going to be like,” Di Santi said. “But I think a lot of people are going to be looking for at-home activities and [pumpkins] are perfect for that.”
As to why Long Neck Pumpkin Farm opted to open this year despite the sparse revenue they’ll be able to generate, Longnecker said the decision came down to providing kids with some much-needed joy and normalcy during the crisis.
“I’ve gotten that question from lots of people in the past few months, of ‘Why did you open?’” Longnecker said. “And my answer is that it’s because the kids need a happy place. If I didn’t have to have money and pay my bills, I would probably open it up for free.”
Despite the ongoing pandemic, chain candy and costume retailers are optimistic this Halloween season.
Candy sales, according to data from the National Confectioners Association, have been strong during the pandemic, increasing nearly 4 percent from March 15 to Aug. 9.
How those sales will fare just before Halloween is not yet known, but a recent survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of the NCA found 74 percent of Millennial-aged moms and young parents said Halloween is “more important than ever” this year because of the pandemic. The poll also found 80 percent of the general public said they could “not imagine” celebrating the holiday without candy.
Still seeing a nationwide demand for costumes, Spirit Halloween, the largest specialty Halloween retailer in the country, has opened 1,400 of its seasonal stores, including five in Colorado Springs.
Steven Silverstein, Spirit Halloween president and CEO, told the National Retail Federation Sept. 14 that Spirit is seeing encouraging initial results and is anticipating a Halloween on par with 2019.