10 Once-Great Retailers That Are Now Pop-Up Halloween Shops

Jason Notte

Halloween is about as good a time as any to take U.S. retail's pre-holiday temperature. For some unfortunate retailers, the result comes back as cold as a corpse. Even as the National Association of Realtors predicts retail vacancy rates will improve from 12% to 11% this year, some stores just aren't cutting it. 

We took a look around the nation's strip malls and indoor shopping plazas to find the companies most likely to have left logos scarred onto Halloween pop-up stores. The shop windows are filled with cobwebs and grim reapers, but the costume and novelty stores inside are haunted by the ghosts of shopping seasons past: 

10. Best Buy(:BBY)

Stores closed or closing this year: 50 

Remember that Best Buy where the Geek Squad "optimized" that laptop that lasted you about two years? The one where you spent the night on line waiting for the midnight release of that Call Of Duty game your kid wanted? It may be one of dozens Best Buy closed after a disappointing 2011 holiday shopping season that cost ex-CEO Brian Dunn his job. Unfortunately, the big blue-and-yellow-trimmed boxes Best Buy left behind aren't exactly the easiest buildings to repurpose. All that square footage is built for one reason only: To hold a Best Buy and all its departments. Pop-up stores love this kind of shop for its ample storage and modular floor space that goes from peak season to clearance sales just by moving a few black curtains. Once those curtains come down, they're giant retail mausoleums that would take pallets full of unsold BlackBerry (:RIMM) devices and DVD copies of Just Go With It to fill.  

9. Albertson's/Acme/Sav-A-Lot/SuperValu(:SVU)

Stores closed or closing this year: 60 

If you're convinced supermarkets just keep the same candy corn and candy pumpkins around from year to year, the failed stores of the SuperValu franchise are about to let you test theory. Citing falling profits and increased competition, SuperValu decided to lose some of its 4,400-store glut this year. Abandoned supermarkets may fall even below Halloween-store standards, but getting some of SuperValu's stale seasonal items in the deal could make pop-ups into one-stop shopping. 

8. The Gap(:GPS)

Stores closed or closing this year: 89 

The same group of consumers that raised online hell for a few days over The Gap's proposed logo change a few years back are far more enamored with what's on the retailer's bags than what's in them. Consumers have been leaving the brand steadily since just after its khakis-and-swing-dancing last hurrah in the '90s and increasingly flocking to the parent company's other shops, including Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta. Unless they're planning on choreographing a routine to Brian Setzer's version of Jump, Jive an' Wail at a Halloween party this year, those same consumers will likely keep bypassing the gap for the pop-up shops in its wake. 

7. Esprit

Stores closed or closing this year: 93 

Somewhere, a sorority sister with dreams of an awesome '80s costume is weeping silently in a mall bathroom. Like Chess King, Suncoast Video and the '80s mall staples before it, Esprit has been relegated to consumer memory and the occasional cameo in a John Hughes or Amy Heckerling film. The German-owned company realized it wasn't competitive in North America, mostly because nobody wants to look like a Patrick Nagel painting or a Robert Palmer background singer anymore. 

6. Ritz/Wolf Camera

Stores closed or closing this year: 137 

This chain has gone bankrupt twice since Apple(:AAPL) released the iPhone. When your key product is now pretty well replicated by people's phones and no longer needs peripherals such as film or lenses to operate in the simplest capacities, that's pretty much a sign you're going to be part of someone's steampunk Halloween costume a few years from now. Much as folks don't have much reason to buy a multipound Western Electric tabletop phone as anything other than antiques, most consumers had little reason to head to a Ritz before they went seasonal. 

5. Pacific Sunwear(:PSUN)

Stores closed or closing this year: 175 to 200 

Know why people shopped at Pacific Sunwear for much of the past 30 years? Because it introduced them to brands such as Hurley and Quiksilver that folks in surf and skate culture were wearing. Know why they haven't been shopping there recently? Because "PacSun" decided to cede those items to shops including Zumiez(:ZUMZ) and Tilly's(:TLYS) and go with their own line of goods instead. That's how you lose a few hundred stores at a clip and become pretty much the last place people would shop if they rode a surfboard, snowboard or skateboard. A costume shop may have more surf and skate cred at this point. 

4. Sears(:SHLD)

Stores closed or closing this year: 182 

OK, Target(:TGT), Wal-Mart(:WMT) and Sears: Which of you will be carrying costumes, candy and other seasonal-aisle favorites this Halloween season. Good. Now which of you will be selling anything else once Halloween is over? Not so fast, Sears. The floundering retailer announced last year that it planned to close 120 Kmart and mainline Sears stores to generate cash. That apparently wasn't enough, as Sears announced plans to close another 62 specialty shops this year. We're guessing the Halloween retailers are as glad to get Sears' square footage and leases as Sears was to part with them, but at least the Halloween shops' nightmare ends in November. 

3. Abercrombie & Fitch(:ANF)

Stores closed or closing this year: 300 

Apparently the only thing that wears worse than '80s and '90s nostalgia is the 2000s. Who would have guessed that shirts emblazoned with a retailer's logo, catalogs brought to you by your local special victims unit and a business model mocked by The Situation would have trouble making it in 2012? A&F doesn't plan to close that many stores in North America until 2015, but faux-wood shuttered storefronts are already prime Halloween shop real estate. The shame of it is you don't even have to spend much at A&F to make an Abercrombie costume: Make yourself up like a catalog model, wear a pair of A&F shorts and nothing else, play bad cocktail-lounge house music at full volume and stand behind a counter looking disaffected. That's it. When you're spending that little to effectively mock a multinational brand, that doesn't say much about its future. 

2. Blockbuster

Stores closed or closing this year: 500 

Wait, wasn't the old Blockbuster the Halloween shop last year? Yes, but thanks to Dish Network(:DISH) the site of the other one in your neighborhood will be competing for temporary costume dollars as well this year. Nearly streamed out of existence by Netflix(:NFLX), iTunes, on-demand cable and several other more convenient options, Blockbuster is down to just about 1,000 locations and has left thousands of empty storefronts and heavily scratched used DVDs in its wake. There are "sexy" costumes for just about every profession at Halloween pop-up shops, but "sexy video store clerk" is in less demand than a VHS copy of Navy SEALs

1. Fashion Bug(:CHRS)

Stores closed or closing this year: 600 

Fashion Bug carried plus-sized garments big enough to fit most folks, but apparently there still wasn't enough room for both it and DressBarn after their parent companies merged this year. While sister stores Lane Bryant and Catherines Plus survived, Fashion Bug and its hundreds of stores were squashed in the exchange. That's a lot of storefront to fill, but seasonal shoppers should steer clear unless there's Halloween-specific signage. Going into a Fashion Bug and asking if it's a costume shop could meet with horrifying results. 

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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