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Spirit Halloween Rises from the Dead. Again. And Again.

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Spirit Halloween is once again open for business. The store known for selling costumes and spooky fall décor at temporary pop-up locations across the United States is making bullish moves in a brutal year for retail.

According to the company, it has opened more than 1,400 storefronts nationwide, more than last year — even as competitors scaled back significantly because of the pandemic. Party City, for example, slashed the number of Halloween City pop-up stores it is opening this fall by 91 percent.

It is almost comforting to see this chain, which is masterful at popping up in recently shuttered storefronts, reappear like clockwork this year, a reminder of seasonal change and the grim reaper of American opportunism, when so many other routines have been disrupted.

At one Spirit location, in the husk of a defunct supermarket at an outdoor mall in Richmond, Va., nothing appeared different from previous years, aside from a small sanitizer dispenser near the entrance, decorated with skeletal hands.

Customers were greeted by a leering, red-eyed animatronic clown, emitting groans from behind sharp teeth. Beyond, the cavernous space offered a vast array of costume options including vampires, cheerleaders, wizards, presidential candidates, non-copyright-violating riffs on “Tiger King” characters, and a surprisingly large selection of costumes in the style of the masked musician Marshmello.

ImageA seasonal Spirit Halloween store in a shopping center in Dublin, Calif.
Credit…Smith Collection/Gado, via Getty Images

There were few visible nods to the many crises that have gripped the country this year, aside from a row of obligatory hazmat suits and a “Karen” costume — complete with a blond wig, binoculars, fake hundred dollar bills, and a T-shirt that read “CAN I SPEAK TO THE MANAGER?”

The reason for Spirit Halloween’s durability is closely linked with its business strategy of taking over temporary leases. The store “is out of step with most normal retail concepts,” Andy Mantis, a retail analyst for the firm 1010Data, wrote in an email. “In 2019, typical party stores generated 29 percent of their annual sales from Labor Day through Halloween.”

Spirit, however, “generated 90 percent over that window,” he wrote, noting that in 2020, “Covid-19 driven temporary retail closures earlier in the year did nothing to hurt their sales outlook.”

And this year, the temporary lease approach may be an even bigger advantage, Mr. Mantis wrote, citing lower real estate costs as a result of “the tidal wave of 2020 retail bankruptcies and store consolidations.” In other words, Spirit is merrily feasting on the corpses of its fallen foes.

Credit…Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

It’s not all buckets of candy for the company, of course.

The National Retail Foundation predicts that there will be some $8 billion in Halloween spending this year — a reduction of approximately 8 percent from last year, which the foundation says will likely result from decreased participation in haunted houses, trick-or-treating and parties.

Mr. Mantis said that Spirit saw a decrease in sales “in the high single digits” this September compared to last year, though the peak of the season has not yet arrived. (And that decrease is just a blip, he said, “compared to the 50-90 percent declines in total discretionary spending during the height of the pandemic” in the country at large.)

Katie Thomas, a retail analyst with the Kearney Consumer Institute, thinks Spirit may struggle with certain headwinds. She noted that customers are looking to streamline their shopping trips to a single destination in order to reduce their exposure to crowds, which could provide “an overall challenge with specialty stores” like Spirit, as opposed to big box competitors like Walmart and Target.

Ms. Thomas also believes customers will spend less than usual on costumes and more on home décor, citing the “go big or go home mentality” exemplified by Home Depot’s massive skeleton. “Right now on their website, it looks like it’s still mostly costume first,” she said of Spirit. “I really think that décor is kind of the way to go.”

“It’s something that people know they can do, they can really lean in to the decorating. Costume parties and trick or treating, it still feels up in the air, if not unsafe,” she said.

Credit…David Jennings/Digital First Media – Boulder Daily Camera, via Getty Images

In a news release provided by a spokesman, Spirit urged consumers to follow C.D.C. guidelines with socially distanced celebrations, including “contactless trick or treating,” “virtual ghostly storytelling sessions,” and “devilish midnight treats left for your neighbors.” (The company also said, in a statement to the Times, that it was offering several items to support “contactless trick or treating” including “treat bags on a pole.”)

“At Spirit Halloween we believe Halloween restores hopefulness and provides an outlet for escape, something we all need now more than ever,” said Steven Silverstein, Spirit’s chief executive, in a Sept. 17 interview with the National Retail Foundation. “With many of our stores now open, we’re seeing encouraging initial results and are anticipating a Halloween on par with last year.”

Spirit was founded in 1983 by a San Francisco dress retailer named Joseph Marver, whose store was struggling to attract customers one October. Inspired by the lines outside of a nearby costume shop, he put all of his dresses in storage and filled his store with Halloween-centric items, which sold quickly. The next year he did the same thing at an empty mall storefront and moved $100,000 of merchandise in a month. He kept at it, adding more storefronts each year, until he eventually sold the business to Spencer’s Gifts in 1999.

“I didn’t invent temporary sales,” Mr. Marver told the Seattle Times in 2000. “But I feel like I invented temporary Halloween.”

Two decades later, Spirit has become a Halloween mainstay, its storefronts as emblematic of the holiday’s approach as pumpkins on porches. It’s also a reliable social media punchline; after the president’s Covid-19 diagnosis, someone tweeted an image of the White House adorned with the store’s iconic grim reaper logo, captioned: “Spirit Halloween is ready to make its move.”

“It’s a little bit funny to me that the world is falling apart, but Spirit Halloween persists,” said Nick Lutsko, 29, a songwriter from Chattanooga, Tenn. In September, Mr. Lutsko went viral with a mock theme song for Spirit that he posted on Twitter.

“This is theme for Spirit Halloween / They got ghouls, and new locations on every other street / saving the global economy,” he sang.

In one verse, Mr. Lutsko claimed jokingly that the store promised him “$1,000 for 100 retweets.” The song ended up receiving nearly 9,000 retweets, and he was excited when a Spirit representative did indeed compensate him by sending several thousand of dollars to Mr. Lutsko’s Venmo account. (“His song gave us serious goosebumps so let’s just say his Venmo account is significantly happier these days,” the company said in a statement; it would not reveal the exact dollar amount, however, adding “some things are just between us and the fog machines.”)

Mr. Lutsko said he was inspired to write the song after visiting a Spirit location with his wife, a prolific Halloween decorator, in early September; the approach of the holiday offered a spark of excitement amid a year marked by sadness and dreary Covid-19 angst.

“Every year whenever you see that they start doing, like, the Pumpkin Spice Lattes at Starbucks at the beginning of September, it’s like ‘Oh, they gotta wait till October,’” Mr. Lutsko said. But this year the sight of “Spirit Halloween stores opening up at the beginning of September was just like, ‘All right, bring it on, baby. Let’s get to spooky town.’”

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How Brands Can Go From Performative Allyship to Actual Allies

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October 21, 2020 7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In these times of divisive politics, social unrest, and massive protesting, brands are taking note and including more diversity in their messaging. Many businesses are putting out social messages that are intended to show allyship, but if we were to look deeper, we’d find that many of these brands don’t have the internal organization or actions to align with their messaging.

This is called Performative Allyship. Essentially, performative allyship is when you “talk the talk” but don’t “walk the walk.”

Brands and businesses know the power of marketing and intentionally creating positive social perceptions. But brands should be careful when pushing out these messages. They can create a false perception that weakens a ’s trust and respect amongst their clients.

Of course, there is power in sharing diversity messaging. I leverage that power in my own business messaging. But I think there’s an opportunity for brands that want to jump on the bandwagon to jump mindfully. Here’s how you can be more intentional about your diversity messaging to avoid the pitfalls of performative allyship. 

What is performative allyship anyway?  

After May 25th, the unfortunate and iconic day when George Floyd was killed, it seemed like everyone felt a sense of urgency to do something and say something to be on the right side of justice.

Brands and organizations started to catch on to the social justice conversations happening in the business world and society as a whole. People all over the states started seeing changes. Buildings were renamed, statues came down, murals went up, and of course, brands started changing their messaging and marketing.

Related: 5 Ways Entrepreneurs of Color Can Determine an Ally’s Authenticity

Don’t get me wrong — nothing in and of itself is bad about that. But the conversation I want to start awakening people to is about the pros, cons, and considerations you should be having when messaging in support of DEI and allyship. You and your business should avoid “performing” in the public space and not doing the work internally.

In DEI, there is no such thing as a perfect response or piece of writing to address racism. It’s more a reflection of what you’ve done prior to that and more importantly, what you’re going to do after the fact.

It’s important to realize that when organizations or businesses make a public statement, whether internal or external, they are in essence inviting people to hold them accountable. The whole world can now scrutinize the actions of their past, how their business operates internally, the culture they’ve created, and how they will continue to act in the public eye.

This year, may have felt like they needed to act with a knee jerk reaction so they would be perceived as being on the right side. However, many people are seeing through brands who do not “walk the walk”. People are seeing the inauthenticity of certain brands as being performative in nature. Leaders must realize there are implications and consequences that come with performative allyship. 

What are the issues for my business if I engage in performative allyship?

Performative allyship can weaken trust and in your business. Not only can it be hurtful for communities of color, it can also put the messaging into a context that can feel like your business is tossing some money at the diversity issues and hoping they will go away.

Related: The Supreme Court’s Ruling on LGBTQ+ Workplace Protections …

When people see performative allyship, they feel like you might be avoiding the hard and important work. This performative work can feel good on the surface and give us a glimpse of hope, because there’s some level of solidarity. But at the end of the day, those of us who care about DEI work are left wondering where the deep work is and what practical steps are present to help us dismantle systemic racism.

As entrepreneurs who care about DEI, we don’t want this work to be window dressing or simply checking a box. We don’t want it to be a costume for the actual problems at hand. We want to see society emerge stronger and not repeat the injustices of the past. We want organizations to align their words with their actions. We want our businesses to act and communicate with integrity and credibility.

Brands are making a fatal mistake with performative allyship. It’s about intent versus impact. Just because you didn’t intend for something to land a certain way shouldn’t mean others have to suffer the consequences. Insensitive DEI messaging can result in negative word of mouth, poor response from the market, or people boycotting your business.

What can you do to be an actual ally?

Here are some tips for brands to become actual allies and avoid performative allyship.

  • Count the cost. Before you feel it appropriate to write a statement, make a verbal pledge, or change your messaging, you need to “count the cost” and know what it means to deliver upon it. In other words, dig into the work or consult with a DEI specialist to see what being aligned with diversity, equity, and inclusion work will cost you, your team, and your business. Analyze your resources so you can live up to the DEI messaging you want to enact.
  • Do an internal evaluation. It’s particularly important to evaluate your DEI efforts through the lens of the leadership team. You must think through what will help your business have a strong, solid foundation upon which success can occur around DEI. Ask yourself and your team questions such as:
    • Are you actually ready for DEI work?
    • Do you have the infrastructure to support it?
    • Do you have the capital to support it?
    • Do you have processes in place to drive sustainable change?
    • Are you doing an assessment to gather important data to inform the path forward?
  • Have a readiness conversation and conduct an assessment. To build upon the last point, I encourage brands and leaders to ask questions around the Meyer’s DEI Spectrum Tool 12 Dimensions of DEI work. These 12 dimensions include assessing policies, leadership, infrastructure, training, and more. This assessment includes seeing if you’ve done the hard work of having those conversations to see why you are doing this work, analyzing the business case for it, and ensuring there is alignment for vision across leadership. 
  • Create systems for equity and justice. If you want to empower Brown and Black people, ask yourself, do you have systems in place for that? Even if your proposed systems are small in stature, make sure you can deliver on them—if not, then don’t market it. After analyzing and assessing, you can consult with DEI professionals to create these systems and implement these ideals for external messaging.
  • Avoid being woke-washed. People want to support brands they feel really are “woke” and not “woke washed”. They want to support brands who are actually aligned with their values and are doing the hard work. Ben & Jerry’s is a great example of a brand that is woke and working towards justice in the world. They were demonstrating allyship well before the death of George Floyd and continued to support DEI efforts afterward. They earned the trust of their audience and avoided the pitfalls of being superifically woke-washed. In other words, they talked the talk and walked the walk.

When you are aligned, prepared, and honest about the messaging you wish to share, you will be taking critical steps towards actual allyship.

As we move forward into the world and more racial and social equity issues show up (because they will), make sure to dig deep and truly do the work to avoid any performative allyship.

Make sure you can back your messaging up with the systems, culture, and infrastructure change in your organization that creates actual impact. Make sure you are actually doing the allyship work to help you and your business contribute to a more just and equitable world.

Related: Be Intentional About Diversity

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Apollo Board Will Review Leon Black’s Ties to Jeffrey Epstein

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The billionaire Leon Black’s decades-long relationship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein will be reviewed by a group of board members at the private equity firm he leads, Apollo Global Management.

A spokeswoman for Apollo said Tuesday night that Mr. Black requested the review by members of the firm’s conflicts committee during a regularly scheduled board meeting.

Mr. Black asked for the review a little more than a week after The New York Times reported that he had wired at least $50 million in fees and donations to entities affiliated with Mr. Epstein in the U.S. Virgin Islands from 2012 to 2017.

Shares of Apollo have fallen more than 13 percent since the report was published. The firm reports quarterly earnings on Oct. 29.

In asking for the review, Mr. Black, an Apollo co-founder and its chief executive, said an independent review was in “the best interests” of Apollo, its employees, shareholders and limited partners. The board committee retained the law firm Dechert LLP to conduct the review.

Mr. Black and Apollo have repeatedly said that Mr. Epstein did no work for the firm, which counts some of the biggest public pensions in the world among its investors.

In a letter to investors after the Times report, Mr. Black said he had not been accused of any wrongdoing. He said he had paid millions in fees to Mr. Epstein for advice, mainly on estate planning.

Mr. Epstein died in custody in August 2019 after federal prosecutors in Manhattan had accused him of engaging in sex trafficking with underage girls and young women. His death was ruled a suicide.

Mr. Black’s letter said he regretted his dealings with Mr. Epstein but had been unaware of the activities that led to the most recent criminal charges against him.

Mr. Epstein pleaded guilty to a charge of soliciting prostitution from an underage girl in Florida in 2008, a case that required him to register as a sex offender. Mr. Black’s letter offered few details about the nature of the work that Mr. Epstein had provided for him in the years that followed. Mr. Epstein, a college dropout who styled himself a financial guru to the very wealthy, had no particular expertise in tax and estate planning.

Mr. Black is worth about $9 billion and is one of the wealthiest executives on Wall Street. He has an art collection estimated to be worth $1 billion and serves as chairman of the board of the Museum of Modern Art.

Mr. Black asked for the review because he wants an independent analysis to support his statement that he did nothing wrong and all the fees paid were legitimate, according to a person briefed on the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The board’s review was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

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Disneyland, Other California Theme Parks, Get Rules for Reopening

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California health officials issued long-awaited guidance for reopening theme parks in the state on Tuesday, setting targets for when attractions like Disneyland Resort, in Anaheim, and Universal Studios Hollywood, in Los Angeles, can open their doors. For the big parks, it could be a long road: their counties must reach the least-restrictive “yellow” tier of the state’s four-tier Covid-19 economic-reopening plan.

In terms of coronavirus cases, Orange County, home to Disneyland, is currently in the “red,” or second, tier and Los Angeles County, Universal Studios’ location, is currently in the most restrictive “purple” tier. It could be months before either county meets the guidelines for the “yellow” tier, which requires there be fewer than one case a day per 100,000 residents and a testing positivity rate of less than 2 percent. The parks have been closed since March.

The secretary of California’s Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, issued the guidelines in a video conference on Tuesday and said that he believes that the tier guidelines can be reached. He said that San Francisco County had already met them.

“There’s lots of work we can do together — both state, local, business leaders, community leaders, individuals — to do what we can to make sure that we reduce transmission throughout our county and there is a path forward there,” Dr. Ghaly said. “We do not know when, but we do know how, and I think we’ll continue to put in the hard work to get us there one county at a time.”

However, Disneyland Resort’s president, Ken Potrock, said in a statement that the guidelines are “arbitrary” and “unworkable.”

“We have proven that we can responsibly reopen, with science-based health and safety protocols strictly enforced at our theme park properties around the world,” Mr. Potrock said. “Nevertheless, the State of California continues to ignore this fact, instead mandating arbitrary guidelines that it knows are unworkable and that hold us to a standard vastly different from other reopened businesses and state-operated facilities.”

When parks do reopen, they will have to implement a reservation system allowing guests to book visits ahead of time. They will also have to screen guests for symptoms and mandate masks everywhere inside the park, except when people are eating and drinking. Larger parks, like Disneyworld and Universal Studios Hollywood, will have to limit capacity to 25 percent.

Smaller parks in California can reopen when they reach the third or “orange” tier. They will be allowed to have up to 25 percent capacity or 500 guests, depending on which number is less, and only people from the park’s home county will be allowed to visit.

Disney World, the company’s Orlando, Fla., park, reopened in July with strict social distancing and capacity requirements and there have been no major outbreaks of the coronavirus associated with the park. But low attendance has led the company to start layoffs there. The pandemic has cut off many of Disney’s lines of business, including films, theater productions and cruises. Disneyland generated an estimated $3.8 billion in revenue last year, according to Michael Nathanson, a media analyst.

On Monday, a coalition of unions representing thousands of workers at Disneyland told California Gov. Gavin Newsom that it is generally satisfied with the health measures laid out by the company for operating safely.

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. And sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to receive expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation.

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