Who's afraid of the $pookfest?

GHOSTS and ghouls are turning into money-making machines.

As Oct 31 creeps up, the dead are raking in big bucks for the living here.

It's not just nightclubs that are cashing in on Halloween's appeal. Tourist sights, costume shops, grocery chains and hotels are crossing over to the dark side, too. Almost all are lured by hopes of hearing the cash registers go ka-ching.

But the heightened presence of pumpkins, broomsticks and faux cobwebs in the shops have sparked some complaints.

Critics like operations manager Sheila Lal, 39, decry the Halloween hype.

Little attention

She told The New Paper that retailers pay little attention to Deepavali, which takes place tomorrow. Mrs Lal said: "Halloween's not even a local event. It's very disappointing shops have no Deepavali decorations. They should at least have a small greeting to respect one another's celebrations."

But is Halloween just too big a draw to ignore?

NTUC FairPrice, which started selling Halloween products in 2007 at its Bukit Timah Plaza store, brings in themed products like candy and costume props about a month before the event.

The Halloween promotions are available in about 20 FairPrice Finest, FairPrice Xtra hypermarkets and selected FairPrice supermarkets, said Mr Tng Ah Yiam, managing director for Group Purchasing, Merchandising and International Trading.

However, all FairPrice stores (over 100 islandwide) had been instructed to put up Deepavali decorations.

Mr Tng added that sales of popular food items like chocolates rose by 10 per cent last year compared with 2009. Sweets are traditionally handed out during Halloween to children who go trick-or-treating in their costumes.

Demand for decorations such as witches' hats and plastic pumpkins shot up 20 per cent year-on-year.

For Shop N Save, this will be their first year selling Halloween products. It and Giant, both chains under the Dairy Farm Group, had brought in Halloween merchandise since September while Deepavali products were displayed this month.

Cold Storage put up Deepavali hanging mobiles in late September while Halloween paraphernalia popped up early this month, a spokesman said.

Even pubs, clubs and hotels are jumping on the great pumpkin festival.

Guests checking in at Royal Plaza on Scotts can vote for their favourite undead next Monday. Front desk staff will play dress-up as vampires and zombies.

Said general manager Patrick Fiat: "The initiative was put in place as part of the hotel's efforts to engage guests and employees."

There's been greater interest in Halloween, he added, after Wildlife Reserves Singapore axed the Night Safari's Halloween Horrors event at the last minute last month.

National University of Singapore sociologist Chua Beng Huat saw nothing wrong with businesses getting into the spirit of things: "Halloween is a money-making opportunity for retailers, so why not?"

Touching on the lament that shops seem to favour Halloween over Deepavali, he said: "Deepavali is a very specific ethnic and religious festival.

"Halloween is for all and sundry who choose to participate."

Associate professor Seshan Ramaswami of Marketing (Education) at Singapore Management University said: "The Halloween craze is just one more phenomenon (in which) culturally, the West continues to be extremely influential in affecting different kinds of consumer behaviour."

And as a meeting point of the East and West, Singapore is particularly susceptible to being influenced by Western traditions.

"(But) it'll take a while for the children-centric trick or treat tradition to percolate to the very young (in Singapore)," he added.

Still, there is a niche market for rustling up scares.

Sentosa Spooktacular, the brainchild of Temasek Polytechnic's business students on the Sentosa Apprentice Project, was introduced in 2009.

Sentosa Leisure Group's events director Jimmy Wong said: "The event is not designed to celebrate Halloween as a festival.

"Sentosa Spooktacular is essentially a Halloween-themed event for thrill-seekers to participate in an exciting and fun activity, if they enjoy such experiences."

The event drew about 10,000 people last year, triple that of 2009's turnout. This year, the organisers are expecting about 15,000 people.

Brainstorming for this year's concept started as early as April. Added Mr Wong: "To cater to a bigger crowd, we expanded the number of trails from four last year to six this year."

Bonanza

For Number 1 Costume Costume, a store offering outfits and partywear, the run-up to Fright Night is a bonanza.

"We're seeing more requests for Justice League superheroes like Batman this year. And Catwoman, she's a perennial favourite," said director Noorjahan Katu, who is in her early 40s.

On top of costume design and rental, her shop also supplies merchandise to big names like Isetan and Cold Storage.

Demand for handmade accessories and party outfits has been pouring in since August.

"There's enough room for everyone in this niche market. We're expecting 50 per cent more takings this time compared with last year," Ms Noor added.

Come Halloween weekend, she expects the shop to be packed with last-minute revellers. The present Toa Payoh site can hold over 800 customers.

Said Ms Noor: "It gets pretty intense. Last year, customers thronged every inch of the shop space picking out their costumes and we had to get extra manpower to manage the crowds and direct traffic flow."

This article was first published in The New Paper.