These aren’t your typical store greeters: Floating, just above the doorway, are three hooded ghouls. Following them is Jim Berg, the co-owner and co-founder of Twin Cities Magic & Costume. He isn’t shrouded, though he is wearing a tie with pumpkin-headed ghosts haunting a graveyard.
“It’s the spirit of the season!” he says.
That season, Halloween, is the store’s busiest, and this year marks a change: After 26 years in downtown St. Paul, last September the store moved to a location with less property taxes, more room and more customer parking on S. Robert Street in West St. Paul. (The old location stayed open through the last holiday.)
A year later, the business is enjoying its new neighborhood, Berg said. New customers are coming in, and the long-term outlook is much better for suburban shopping than it is five miles up the road. People don’t shop in downtown St. Paul like they used to, he said.
On the other hand, moving to a different town after a quarter century has not come without costs. Some old customers still don’t know where the old downtown mainstay went.
“A day doesn’t go by when a customer calls and says ‘Where are you?’ ” Berg said. “After 26 years in the downtown area, this was a bit of a jump. … It takes time to reorient.”
Fortunately, no matter the location, Berg’s store is in a growth industry. According to the National Retail Federation, Halloween spending has increased by 55 percent in the past eight years. Berg says the trend is driven by the holiday’s shift, in the past 20 years, from a children’s-only event to one popular with adults.
Debbie Vogel, the store’s wig and makeup specialist, explains the appeal: “Everybody loves being something else, at least for a night or day.”
This year, she said, the always-popular Roaring Twenties has gotten a big boost from the remake of “The Great Gatsby.” And not just for Halloween: Vogel counts three Gatsby-themed weddings this year.
Flappers and gangsters even made it to a church festival. “The husband came in kicking and screaming,” Vogel said, but by the time the older couple came back to return their rental costumes, he’d changed his mind. “He didn’t believe how much fun it would be.”
Walking the store’s 11,000 square feet of makeup, clothes, shoes, accessories and ready-made costumes, Berg points out everything from Saturday Night Fever disco clogs to stick-on injured zombie flesh to nine different types of skin-baring “cat” outfits.
Besides Gatsby and Daisy, which costumes are in vogue this year? The perennials, Berg said, include Victorian belles of the ball, superheroes and characters from movie blockbusters. Of course, “the vampire and zombie rage is still raging.” There are also hints of the less mainstream, like costumes for the Spanish-language TV character El Chavo and the counterculture Steampunk Gentleman.
The growth of Halloween pop-up stores makes Twin Cities Magic, which is open year-round, an increasingly rare store. It outfits plays for school, church, and community theater as well as visitors to comic book conventions, the Renaissance Festival and themed corporate events. The store also dabbles in creating mascots for schools and businesses. Once upon a time, Berg said, the shop made the first Gold’n Plump chicken mascot.
It was magic, though, that got Berg and his friend Fred Baisch into the business. The two owners and founders met as amateur magicians, and they keep their passion alive in the shop by hosting meetings for the area’s magic organization and flying in magicians to perform and lecture.
Berg and Baisch also give today’s wonder-struck kids a place to learn and share what got them hooked. Each second Saturday, the store hosts the area’s Society of Young Magicians meeting, where children ages 7-17 can learn tricks and practice in front of their peers. One of them, 9-year-old Ian, was in the store with his mother, Mary, to shop for new magic tricks on a recent day. Ian specializes in dice tricks, but Mary encourages him to try one with more dazzle for his audience of reporter and store owner.
“Show him the one where stuff flies out of your mouth!”
Graison Hensley Chapman is a Northfield freelance writer.