Most kids spend their Halloweens trick-or-treating, but since she was a child, Ashley Wilborn, the eldest of five children, has spent the holiday helping her parents sell fake blood, plastic shrunken heads and other seasonal items.

“We work Halloween but close a little early that day,” Wilborn, 19, said. “We kind of just hang here, eat candy and see people who come in.”

Wilborn’s parents started managing Victoria’s Spirit Halloween 10 years ago.

“We needed the money and just to have a little extra for like Christmas and bills and stuff like that,” Wilborn said. “It’s fun but, at the same time, something we kinda got used to. It got to be part of our every-year thing.”

The pop-up retail chain started as Spirit Women’s Discount Apparel in Castro Valley, Calif. In 1983, owner Joe Marver began selling costumes and opened his first pop-up shop the next year. The business, bought by Spencer’s Gifts in 1999, now has more than 1,300 pop-up stores with locations in 72 Texas cities.

Local Spirit Halloween managers begin scouting new locations for the next year as early as November. When it comes to finding a place, Wilborn said, short-term leases and visibility are key.

“Whatever we can find off Navarro that’s a big enough space,” Wilborn said. “There’s more traffic, and we can get more attention because we have that big pumpkin.”

This year, the store was on an extra-tight schedule to set up its displays and merchandise. The store usually opens at the beginning of September, but this year it didn’t open until Sept. 16.

For a business that opens its stores for a little over two months a year, two weeks can be a big deal.

The Halloween retail industry is worth more than $9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

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Wilborn said sales increase closer to the holiday.

Wilborn attributed the delay to a last-minute location change. They had intended to set up shop in the former Sears store in the Victoria Mall, but Wilborn said a problem with the air conditioning caused them to look elsewhere.

“We actually started getting our shipments in like a week and a half to two weeks ago,” Wilborn said. “Our frames and stuff come from not that far away. Around Corpus Christi – we have district managers that live around there.”

Also in Corpus Christi is Driscoll Children’s Hospital, which receives money from Spirit Halloween’s affiliated charity program, Spirit of Children.

Since their partnership began in 2008, Spirit of Children has raised $223,951 for the hospital through four Spirit Halloween locations in Corpus Christi, Kingsville, Laredo and Victoria. The Victoria store has raised more than $40,000.

Overall, Spirit of Children has raised $54 million and works with 141 child life departments in hospitals across the U.S. and Canada.

The donations are used to renovate and update hospital playrooms, to support an annual patient prom and to purchase toys for hospital use and gifts during the holiday season, said Lisa Cervantez, lead child life specialist at Driscoll Children’s Hospital.

Each October, Cervantez said, Spirit Halloween employees also host a Halloween party for the hospital children.

“In addition to the generous funding, we work with Angela each year to secure “special request” costumes for some of our chronic patients that may not be able to attend the Spirit of Children Party,” Cervantez said.

Cervantez said the kids appreciate the party.

“It’s an opportunity for them to get out of the room,” Cervantez said.

Not only does the store and its work benefit children in the hospital, but Wilborn said working there has been a bonding experience for her and her family and staff.

“The people who do work here, most of (them) have kind of been with us since the beginning,” Wilborn said. “We made a little family that we have now.”

Morgan is the business reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at (361) 580-6328, mohanlon@vicad.com or @mcohanlon.

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