- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2002

Halloween plans have been canceled for many local retailers, haunted-house attractions and communities as police continue to search for the sniper responsible for 10 deaths in the Washington region.
While some attractions remain open, many Halloween productions are moving indoors or have been canceled amid growing parental concerns.
Close access to major highways at Prince George's Stadium prompted the Bowie Baysox, a minor league baseball team, to cancel its attraction, "The Panic Asylum," in light of the shooting of a 13-year-old boy in Bowie.
"The timing was just awful for us to have the show," said Mark Torsani, co-owner of Tulip Gulch Productions, which was putting on the show. "We were already canceling our outdoor hayride and events and had about 70 percent of the set completed when they made the decision last Friday."
Mr. Torsani said he expects at least a $30,000 loss from closing the weeklong attraction that generally draws 6,000 people.
The Frederick Keys also canceled their attraction, "Field of Screams," after hearing concerns about the accessibility to major interstates from Harry Grove Stadium.
"It's the right thing to do," said Joe Pinto, general manager of the Keys, the Frederick, Md., minor league baseball team.
"The last thing we want to do is put people in harm's way of this shooter who's been known to jump onto the freeway after he shoots someone," Mr. Pinto said. He said the stadium expected to lose about $15,000 in ticket sales from the cancellation of the weeklong event. "This is as much for the safety of our employees as it is for our fans," he said.
But not all Halloween productions are shutting their doors.
More than 500 people visited "The Goatman Hollow," an outdoor attraction in Hyattsville last weekend, said William Livingston, co-owner of Walking Dead Creations, which runs the production.
"It's a little more than our average opening weekend, so we're hopeful about the entire run," Mr. Livingston said. "We've had police guards on hire since we started the production, and a lot of local fire department volunteers have been out every night with us, just watching the perimeter and making sure everything is safe."
Despite low attendance for its opening night, Lynton Harris said his production, "The Fright House" at the D.C. Armory, will continue to run though Halloween.
"It's brutal right now, and I know that the numbers are down from these shootings," said Mr. Harris, the chairman and chief executive of Sudden Impact Entertainment Company, which has a joint contract with the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission for the attraction.
"The best thing our cast can do is keep operating for families and people who are out there living their lives and hope that this idiot is caught," Mr. Harris said.
Several Maryland and Virginia malls say the rising number of cancellations of such attractions has them stocking up on candy and merchandise for their indoor Halloween activities.
"It's more alluring to parents right now because there's a better sense of control inside a mall," said Christina Young, acting marketing director for Prince George's Plaza in Hyattsville, which expects at least 5,000 patrons for its Halloween event. "The kids love to get dressed up and come through our stores to get candy, and the parents are a little more at ease."
Gayle Spurr, marketing director of Springfield Mall, said she's been getting more calls from fund-raising groups that want to hold events inside the mall rather than outside local supermarkets or Wal-Marts.
"I've had groups like the Boy Scouts who don't want their kids outside selling apple cider while this guy is on the loose call and want to do their event inside, which our policy doesn't allow," Mrs. Spurr said. "But it certainly highlights the increase we're expecting in family turnout for our Halloween attraction."
Ferris Kaplan, marketing director of Fair Oaks Shopping Center in Fairfax , said he has received more inquiries about Halloween at the mall from churches and community groups that have canceled their events. "In the two hours we have the event, we might hit 10,000 [patrons], but it's hard to say right now," Mr. Kaplan said.
At Westfield Shoppingtown Montgomery in Bethesda, retailers are stocking up on extra candy for mall trick-or-treaters. Louise Gordon, the mall's marketing director, estimates that at least 6,000 people will visit the mall on Halloween.
"We've let our retailers know that they need to be ready for higher-than-average crowds because the feedback from parents for this event has been so much higher lately," Ms. Gordon said.
Seasonal retailers, who often lease spaces inside malls and outlets, say they are hoping to make up lagging sales in costumes and accessories with the indoor events.
"It's the peak time for our sales season, and it's much worse now than it was after 9/11," said Michael Greene, owner of Halloween Express specialty shops in the Springfield and Fair Oaks malls.
"The customer traffic is just down, but we hope to pick up this week as we hit the shopping crescendo for Halloween stuff and capture some sales from parents bringing their kids in for the mall activities," Mr. Greene said.
The Halloween season is projected to bring in $6.9 billion in sales for retailers nationwide, according to a National Retail Federation report.
But Bonnie Seay, owner of the Fantasy costume shop in Fredericksburg, Va., has adjusted her sales outlook because of the shootings. So far, sales are down 50 percent for the holiday. "We saw an upswing Monday morning, when people thought the sniper had been caught, and it was surprising to see how people's attitudes had changed.
"But each day that there has been a shooting and especially when the shootings were here sales were flat," Mrs. Seay said. One of the sniper attacks injured a woman in Fredericksburg.
Washington- and Baltimore-area Wal-Marts also are experiencing significant drops in Halloween merchandise sales, said Tom Williams, Wal-Mart spokesman. "Customers are just getting the essentials and skipping the things like Halloween candy, costumes and decorations," Mr. Williams said. "We just have to play this by ear and hope for the best."

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