When Old Businesses are Converted for Halloween

I love Halloween. I enjoy trick-or-treaters, scary movies, and pumpkin flavored food. However, I enjoy two other October 31-related activities even more. First, I love attending haunted houses. I like getting scared, jumped out at, and chased. Secondly, I love dressing up! I spend way too much money going to Spirit and purchasing a costume while also adding on several unnecessary props. Great fun for me.

Sid and I dressed up for Halloween 2014...I am the one with the mask on :)

Sid and I dressed up for Halloween 2014…I am the one with the mask on 🙂

But, believe it or not, there is something about haunted houses and dressing up that I enjoy that doesn’t directly relate to the theme of Halloween. Okay, here it goes. Halloween is seasonal. Because of that, haunted house attractions and costume shops such as Spirit aren’t open year-round. Instead, haunted houses are usually in commission for only a month while Spirit stores might operate for three months. With these short spans, they must rent space in shuttered stores.

Most haunted houses and Spirit locations are in old supermarkets, supplies stores, and random strip mall locations. Old out of business stores that shut their doors are brought out of retirement so they can be converted into a temporary maze of screams or a space for folks to spend around $60-$100 on the season’s hottest Halloween costumes. I sometimes think of it as a professional athlete who retires only to come back a couple years later with a new team and diminished skills.

This intrigues me though. For me, there is just something kind of cool and mysterious about a long shuttered grocery store having its locks removed and given a second life. In my head I immediately start to think about how the haunted house crew or the Spirit managers will use the space for something completely different.

I lived in Spokane long enough to visit businesses for years only to see them go out of business and then be reincarnated as a haunted house or a Spirit store. It is kind of a weird feeling because you have memories of the prior tenant and what it used to be. You thought the day would never come when the doors would be opened again. Finally it happens but the reason it does is for a temporary and gimmicky cause. The old store is not going to look nice. It is going to be cold and rugged. It is going to look exactly like someone is camping out there just for a short duration of time (no surprise). It is going to be a shell of its former self. However, when you walk in memories will still surface.

But even if I don’t have history with what a certain building was before a haunted house or Spirit took over I still find myself interested. Especially with Spirit stores, I look past the costumes and temporary lipstick and try to envision where everything was placed when the brick and mortar actually had a tenant that planned to be there for the long haul. With haunted houses you are usually disillusioned as you go through the maze but the thought always goes through my head…people used to walk on these floors to buy milk and bread, now I am scurrying across them at midnight to satisfy my need to be scared.

Does this interest anyone else? Or is just another one of my weird quirks? I also get really excited about old movie theaters that are repurposed into other businesses but that is for another day. When you visit your local Spirit next month be mindful of the history of the building it inhabits. Don’t Blink.

Halloween Haunted Houses

Ever since I was just a little kid I have liked scary movies, paranormal phenomenon, and ghost stories. Basically I have always enjoyed the unsettling and suspenseful feeling you get in the stomach from controlled fear. I think I was born with an innate tolerance and appetite for scary things but I also think that something my dad did with me when I was young also helped build my threshold for long childhood sessions of “Bloody Mary” and my never think twice attitude of strolling through any cemetery that I might drive by. As always, let me explain.

When I was just six years old, my dad took my sister and I to our first haunted house. Let me be clear for the people who might not know about the type of haunted house that I speak of. My dad didn’t take us to some old, abandoned house that once served as an insane asylum that is now possessed with demonic spirits. He took us to a Halloween haunted house, a modern day staple in our country where a group takes over a building and uses actors dressed in scary costumes, a variety of misdirecting routes, a plethora of strobe lights, and several guys in Jason masks with chainsaws to try to scare the customers who pay money to walk through.

My dad drove us from the north side of Spokane out to the valley area and to a deserted high school. It was at this defunct school where the haunted house was staged. I probably remember about 2% of my sixth year of life and about 1.3% of it comes from that haunted house. I remember standing in a long line in the dark outside the school. I remember hearing screams from where we stood in line. I remember getting to the front of the line and seeing the witch pointing us into the entrance…and then from there I remember all the images inside. A floating graveyard on what looked like blood. People hanging from nooses. Grotesque figures moving in the strobe lights. Dracula style coffins coated in blood and graffiti. Then there were the noises too. High shriek screams. Sounds of glass breaking. Maniacal laughter. Slamming of doors. Then there were the actors jumping out at us from every corner possible and coming out of trap doors. Of course the final (and cliché) thrill came when we were chased out of the premises with guys in hockey masks revving chainsaws.

I loved every second of it.

From then on we made it a tradition for the three of us (and later the four of us when my brother was old enough to join in) of going through a haunted house each year. Besides the high school set up as the years went by and sites changed we also toured through old “haunted” grocery stores and warehouses. We would always rate each one compared to the other ones we had visited in the past, although it always seemed like we had an affinity for that very first one at the old West Valley High School.

Then something happened: I got old. High school came and I didn’t have a prayer of doing anything not related to academics or athletics. I then moved away for college and the drought continued except for during my junior year where I went with a church group to a haunted corn maze. Although not completely like a haunted house I did have a great time and was reminded of what I had missed for the past several years. However, it must have not reminded me enough because I have not gone back to a haunted house or a haunted corn maze since then.

This year that changes. Despite the absolute craziest time of the year just on the horizon for anyone associated with intercollegiate athletics, I am going to find a way to go through the main haunted house attraction here in Missoula. I got the Facebook event invitation and I have my heart set on it. I am working Halloween night this year so I need something else to get my fix in. A haunted house will do just that for me. Of course I want to take a date with me so if you want a brave man who will protect you from zombies and Michael Myers freaks, let me know…it will be a fun time. I am ready for a good scare! Don’t Blink.