Liquidation and Fright in the Retail Twilight Zone
Mary Ann Mendelson and her husband help put stores to death most of the year. But in September and October Mendelson occupies moribund retail space at the mall and goes into the ghoulish business of selling Halloween costumes and accessories.
This Halloween season she’s running the Spirit Halloween Superstore at Greensboro’s Four Seasons Town Centre.
‘“We do retail liquidation,’” Mendelson says. ‘“We run the going-out-of-business sales.’”
Last year was slow, she says, so her employer, Gordon Brothers, offered her the opportunity to run Halloween stores three months out of the year.
‘“Sixteen of us took them up on it,’” she says. ‘“They said: ‘Find the space in your area.””
This makes two years for her in the seasonal business of Halloween retailing.
‘“Starting in January we start looking for the space,’” she says. ‘“Nobody wants to rent to you because they all want five-year leases. But come July they’ll rent to you so they can get at least three months rent for the year.’”
Noelle Oliver and Sidney Graves, two early college students at NC A&T University who are respectively 17 and 16 years old, have been with Mendelson since the beginning of the season in early September. They unloaded the trucks, fastened the metal grids together to hang the rubber ghoul masks, and arranged the makeup racks.
The best part of the job is watching customers’ personalities transform once they put on the costumes, says Oliver, who works at the store 20 hours a week.
‘“They’ll act like exactly what they’re dressed up as,’” she says. ‘“The Leggs Avenue costumes are real popular. It’s a new confidence. They think, ‘I just have the best legs!’ We have sexy Snow White, sexy Sleeping Beauty. It’s kind of risquÃ©.’”
Part of the job is getting dressed up.
‘“I had to walk the mall as a pirate’s wench,’” Oliver says. ‘“I was really cute. I went out two times. The first time I went out with fliers, the second time with a sign pointing to the store.’”
Customers need encouragement sometimes to overcome their fear of getting out of themselves.
‘“Sometimes to be honest I might hurt somebody’s feelings,’” Graves says. ‘“People put on these costumes with short skirts. It’s out of their comfort level. Just me saying, ‘Oh that looks nice on you,’ it boosts their confidence.’”
The job revolves around the customers, of course. One of Mendelson’s complaints is that some customers get upset when she asks them not to bring their drinks in the store.
‘“Customers are the best part and the worst part of the job,’” she says. ‘“You damn well better like them or you don’t have a job. But sometimes they try your patience.’”
– Jordan Green