Goodwill shoppers adjust Halloween habits during the pandemic


Creepy decor is outselling bargain outfits as an unusual holiday season kicks off

VANCOUVER — As with many things in this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Halloween is likely to look a little different for many people in 2020.

One potential indicator of that has been what is selling at area Goodwill locations.

The Goodwill story on Fourth Plain Blvd and NE 65th Ave is stocked up and ready for Halloween bargain hunters. Photo by Mike Schultz
The Goodwill story on Fourth Plain Blvd and NE 65th Ave is stocked up and ready for Halloween bargain hunters. Photo by Mike Schultz

Usually home to discount costumes and bizarre attire, this year shoppers at the recycled goods retailer have been focused much more on decor than crazy outfits.

It’s actually a trend that Goodwill has seen since reopening its Southwest Washington locations last May, says Dale Emanuel.

“We started seeing decor just fly,” she says. “We want to make our space happy … so we really had a hard time holding on to decor.”

Up until recently, Emanuel says sales of Halloween-themed items was running about 70 percent decor to 30 percent costumes.

“In our Southwest Washington, Northwest Oregon, and Central Oregon stores we have more than 500,000 pounds of all things Halloween,” says Emanuel. 

Usually, costumes would be flying off the racks faster than employees could restock them.

“This is my 25th Halloween (working for Goodwill),” says Emanuel. “I’ve never seen it like this before. But we’ve never been in a pandemic either. So I think it’s now that parents are maybe trying to find a line through this tradition.”

This past weekend, Emanuel says, costume sales started to creep up.

“I think parents figured it out,” she says, “how they are going to bring tradition, dress up, and escape for their kids.”

In addition to donated used items, most Goodwill locations also have unopened new items donated by other retailers. Photo by Mike Schultz
In addition to donated used items, most Goodwill locations also have unopened new items donated by other retailers. Photo by Mike Schultz

Some neighborhoods have announced plans for Halloween costume parades, so children can still safely show off their outfits. Others have planned “quaranteams,” with smaller outdoor gatherings. Some parents are planning outdoor scavenger hunts with their youngsters, turning Halloween into something closer to a spooky Easter.

Aside from the usual assortment of superhero costumes, witches, ghosts, and cartoon characters, Goodwill employees at each location scour the regular racks to find interesting articles of clothing that can be made into all manner of interesting outfits.

After stores reopened in May, Goodwill Industries of the Columbia-Willamette instituted aggressive safety measures, including requiring people to separate donations into categories, and then sequestering any items for at least 24 hours before putting them onto the retail floor.

Racks of Halloween costumes and interesting clothing items await bargain hunters at Goodwill retail locations across Clark County. Photo by Mike Schultz
Racks of Halloween costumes and interesting clothing items await bargain hunters at Goodwill retail locations across Clark County. Photo by Mike Schultz

Masks and physical distancing are also required, and stores are running at reduced hours to allow for more cleanup.

“That’s just how it goes,” says Emanuel. “I think everybody knows that dance right now.”

Those measures are especially critical for a business that deals in donated items. Since reopening, sales have been down around 15 percent over this same time last year, says Emanuel.

“Our payroll is much smaller, too,” she says. “We don’t have close to 3,000 people. We have about 1,900 people working.”

The nonprofit has also moved its job training and placement services fully online, in order to further protect employees and clients.

For details on the programs Goodwill offers, head to meetgoodwill.org.

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