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Unmasking Halloween's Commercial Goblins

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On a Sunday afternoon in mid-October, business is brisk in Aisle 5A of a suburban Walgreens drugstore. This is the Halloween decorations aisle - not to be confused with the Halloween candy aisle (5B) or the Halloween costume aisle, labeled the Boo-tique.

As clusters of parents and children survey shelves piled high with orange and black products, one boy spots a ghoulish "bleeding hand" novelty candle, priced at $2.49.

"Oh, cool!" he exclaims. "Let's get it."

"No," his mother replies. "We don't need that."

"But Mom...," he pleads, as his brother eyes a "Scary Skull" ($14.95). The children wheedle and coax, and soon the mother sighs and agrees.

Nearby, another woman and her elementary-school son are considering everything from pumpkin-shaped sidewalk yard lights ($12.99) and skeleton door covers ($1.99) to Halloween balloons (79 cents), outdoor graveyard scenes ($3.99), and pumpkin carving kits ($4.99).

"It's his first Halloween party," the mother says to another customer, as if to explain the bounty of holiday products filling her basket.

Move over, Christmas. Make way for the latest megaholiday. Halloween, once a modest celebration requiring little more than a pumpkin and a simple costume and mask, has become a multibillion-dollar industry. In a season of trick-or-treat, the biggest tricksters this year are not children but clever marketeers, creating needs we didn't know we had for products no one could have imagined a few years ago.

A Walgreens flyer this week features no fewer than nine pages of Halloween products labeled "Halloween Values You Need," including bat-motif socks, ghost jewelry, tree masks, and wind streamers. Even Marshall Field's flagship store in Chicago has carved out, if you'll pardon the pun, an entire department for pumpkin-motif merchandise.

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