South Side Spirit Halloween haunts again

Duke Archive Photo Spirit Halloween’s South Side Works location operates for three months of the year. During the other nine the space sits empty.

Duke Archive Photo
Spirit Halloween’s South Side Works location operates for three months of the year. During the other nine the space sits empty.

By Elsa Buehler | Staff Writer

Pumpkin Spice Lattes. Creepy community clowns. Haunted houses. “American Horror Story.” Spirit Halloween. What do all of these things have in common? They only come out at a certain time of year: fall.

For those unfamiliar, Spirit Halloween is a chain of Halloween-themed stores owned by Spencer Gifts that pop up all across America and Canada each August. In fact, according to Spirit’s website, it is the largest Halloween retail group in North America, boasting a total of 1,150 locations this year.

Spirit Halloween recently opened one of its seasonal stores in the popular South Side Works complex. Each Spirit location carries products chosen from a mass pool of packaged costumes, accessories, wigs, masks, makeup, decorations, animatronics, fog machines, party supplies and more.

Due to the seasonality of the stores, they only need to be open for about three months, typically, from Labor Day until Nov. 1. Spirit’s website — which displays a Halloween countdown next to the phrase, “So Much Fun, It’s Scary!” — also stresses that locations are carefully selected in highly populated areas. Ideally, stores are placed in areas with populations over 35,000, in high-traffic areas such as strip malls.

Spirit Halloween sales associate Christina DiBello, a Pittsburgh native, said the South Side Works store where she is employed has been in the same location for the past few years.

Considering that the concept behind Spirit Halloween is to place stores in popular shopping areas for a very limited amount of time, it’s interesting to consider what becomes of the retail spaces during the nine months they aren’t being leased by Spirit.

Though one might expect all retail spaces in South Side Works to be highly desired, especially Spirit’s clutch corner spot, this does not seem to be the case.

During the time Spirit Halloween occupies the location, their temporary sign covers a more permanent one for Joseph-Beth Booksellers. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, however, Joseph-Beth closed its South Side Works location almost six years ago, in late November 2010, due to a decline in business related to changes in the bookselling industry.

For the better half of a decade, the property has apparently remained a barren wasteland that has been labeling itself as a bookstore for nine months of the year, to which DiBello attested.

“For the past four or five years, the storefront has not been rented by any other business, even during our offseason,” DiBello said. “If someone were to occupy, we would be forced to move locations, since our store is so temporary.”

Real estate mystery aside, you still may be wondering about other aspects of Spirit Halloween, such as the employment procedure for such a short-lived shopping season.

According to DiBello, Spirit looks to hire individuals who are friendly, outgoing, enthusiastic about Halloween, skilled in customer service and interaction, interested in helping ,people find their costumes and seeking short-term work.

Spirit Halloween, according to its website, accepts online job applications from interested candidates aged 18 and up.

“We mostly get a mixture of people looking for part-time jobs — college students, Pittsburgh locals and even a few high schoolers,” DiBello said.

Spirit’s general mission statement seems clear: to provide variety and convenience in specialty Halloween retail shopping to crazed, costume-hunting customers all across North America. And despite its odd lease agreements and far-from-permanent employee contracts, they appear to be doing a fine job of producing that service for South Side.

So whatever you decided to be this year, whether it be a cliché Joker and Harley Quinn or a tongue-in-cheek Hillary and Donald, or an ever-classy nun and priest, when shopping, keep in mind “Halloween Headquarters,” South Side Works Spirit Halloween.

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