Want to make a political statement with your Halloween costume?
Obama and Romney masks are a sure bet, but the hottest craze in many places around the country -- a dark horse, so to speak -- is Big Bird, the Sesame Street character on Public Broadcasting System (PBS).
"We get calls every day, people coming in looking for Big Bird," said Jim Berg, co-owner of Twin Cities Magic and Costume Co. in St. Paul, "but we don't have him. We can't get him," he said. "The demand is huge but there's just no supply because this thing just came up and nobody was prepared."
Big Bird hit the Halloween circuit just three weeks ago after the first presidential debate, when the Republican candidate allowed as how he likes the yellow fellow, but he'd cut tax-money support for the bird and PBS. That prompted a vigorous online debate as well as TV ads featuring a Big Bird look-alike supporting Obama.
And that led to a run on costumes.
Some of Twin Cities Magic's customers decided that dressing up as something else just wouldn't do and are piecing together their own quasi-Big Bird costumes, with flowing yellow boas and suits topped with big-beak masks they paint yellow, Berg said.
National outlet HalloweenCcostumes.com sold out of several takes on Big Bird almost overnight after the Oct. 3 debate, said company spokesman Marlon Heimerl.
"In the past, this hasn't been a very popular costume, so when Big Bird flew the coop in such high numbers, it was definitely a big surprise," he said.
Disguise Inc., Sesame Workshop's official costume maker, said interest in the children's show regular has shot up among the thousands of retailers it services.
Kimberly Wick, vice president of Costume World based in Deerfield Beach, Fla., also saw Big Bird become a hot seller overnight. The company sells and rents costumes of all kinds and has four stores around the country. "We had Big Bird dancing in front of our Deerfield Beach store and people were honking and going crazy," Wick said. "It's been 20 years since Big Bird was popular."
But the oversized, google-eyed yellow bird is nonpartisan, his Sesame Workshop on PBS has emphasized in asking all campaigns to remove him from political ads. He also is not a universal best-seller.
"Nobody's even asked," said the manager at Spirit Halloween in Bloomington, who declined to give his name. "Good thing, because we didn't stock it this year."
And Big Bird still lives at a few stores. There are a few leftover Big Birds at Halloween Express in Anoka, where demand also has been light, and one left at the Spirit Halloween store in Rochester.
At the Rochester store, the big sellers this year are zombie outfits for all ages and genders, plus monsters, ninjas, "and, of course, all the risque women's costumes -- policewomen, nuns, maids, that sort of thing," said John Randolph, store manager.
The national Halloween seasonal chain claims it can predict the presidential election result through mask sales. (So far, Obama is leading nationally, but not in the Rochester area, said Randolph.)
Back to Big Bird: "People are asking. We've sold a few, but this last one, people come in and look at it, but they really don't want a whole-body costume," Randolph said.
"I mean, it's a men's large, $39.98, down 10 bucks from last year," he explained.
"Most guys, they look at it and figure, 'Well, maybe it's comfortable to wear when I'm walking around, but not so much on a bar stool, huh?'"
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253