Every Halloween season has that one thing that separates it from all other Halloween seasons. Something that makes it uniquely special, whether it’s a Fruity Yummy Mummy revival or a black-bunned Whopper.
This year, that “one thing” seems easy to identify. A new Halloween movie starring Jamie Lee Freakin’ Curtis is objectively unbeatable, and if anyone wants to call it this year’s special thing, I ain’t gonna argue.
But it isn’t my pick.
Nope, for me, the 2018 Halloween season will be forever remembered as the one when spooky stores took over the scattered corpses of Toys “R” Us. Yes, I think it’s that big.
That Halloween pop-up shops would take root in shuttered Toys “R” Us stores was no surprise, but I don’t think any of us predicted the sheer volume. I’ve seen more photos of Spirit banners over faded Toys “R” Us signs than I can remember, and it’s barely the middle of September.
The loss of Toys “R” Us still stings. I’m only now realizing that this will be my first-ever TRU-less Christmas season, and man that’s gonna hurt. In a sense, this weird Halloween thing is a way to say goodbye to TRU one more time.
Despite the spooky takeovers, the stores still look like Toys “R” Us. Same paint jobs, same rainbow highlights, same harsh lighting. Even in a sea of monster masks and animatronic psycho clowns, you never really forget that you’re in Toys “R” Us. It’s pretty cool.
This isn’t to say that Spirit Halloween, Halloween City and similar chains never took over huge spaces before, because of course they have. Still, I can’t imagine that there have ever been this many giant Halloween stores before.
At least in the case of Spirit Halloween, the stores are making the most of their bloated real estate. Every super-sized Spirit doubles as a haunted attraction, with huge animated statues and even minor dark rides. (Did ya notice those rundown shacks with the blacklight-bathed hallways? They’re sort of like dark rides, at least.)
After all, these companies know the importance of online buzz. The stores are designed with a bit of “playtime” in mind. They want you to snap photos in there, and maybe even horse around a little.
I mean, I’ve been to actual haunts with less to offer. Nutty as it sounds, I honestly believe that some of these stores could get away with charging a small admission fee.
Those aspects are hardly exclusive to the TRU-based Halloween stores, but for me, that’s where they matter most. It’s just such a perfect, eerie little epilogue.
I don’t want to diminish the worst effects of TRU’s demise, because people losing their jobs is a thousand times more important than guys like me losing a toy store. Believe me, I get that.
Even so, many of us considered Toys “R” Us stores to be sacred spaces. Having what are essentially haunted amusement parks take residence in their scattered remains is just like, trope-level perfect. The kind of thing that you’d expect to read about in some spooky short story — not actually experience.
Will it happen again next year? Probably, but in nowhere near as many locations. Those old Toys “R” Us stores will eventually find permanent residents, and most of them will keep remodeling until all traces of Geoffrey are obliterated.
Enjoy it while it lasts, my friends. No matter how trivial it seems now, you’re experiencing Halloween history. We’ll be talking about this weird ass deal for years to come!