Trick or Treat or Stickup Threat?

Masks complicate retail environment; Ohio AG cracks down on costume lenses

COCOA, Fla. -- The Season of the Witch is also crime time, and Halloween masks add to the risk. The town of Cocoa, Fla., is cracking down on Halloween masks. Over the past month, there have been more than 30 armed robberies at Cocoa convenience stores and hotels, reported Central Florida News 13-TV, and most have one thing in commoncovered faces.

People are nervous this time of year, especially store clerks, Tracy Lucas, a clerk, told the news channel.

Cocoa Police told stores to put up a flier warning that Florida law forbids [image-nocss] adults from wearing masks in public. But after seeing the flier, the State Attorney's office told the Cocoa Police Department that the fliers needed to come down. The law police were using had too many exceptions.

We had to change the wording a little bit so that we could make it stick, and we want to make it stick, Detective Barbara Matthews of the Cocoa Police, told the news channel.

Police say there's absolutely nothing wrong with wearing a mask while with the kids trick or treating. But, they said, if you go into a gas station or other store, just remember to take it off. The new flier only warns people to take off the masks or police will be called.

The guy who removes the mask, that's not going to be the issue. If they don't remove the mask, we're asking [clerks] to dial 911 right away, Matthews said.

Clerks at a Cocoa BP Station said most people already remember to take off their Halloween masks before coming into stores. If the person does not take off their mask, they will be asked to remove it. If the person refuses to remove the mask, they will be asked to leave. If all else fails, police will be called. This will be a question of trespassing, said Matthews.

Another sign of the seasonannual warnings about decorative optical lenses.

This year, Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, on behalf of the Ohio Optical Dispensers' Board, has filed six motions requesting temporary restraining orders and complaints for injunctions against six businessesbeauty and costume shopsselling cosmetic contact lenses without a license, to prevent further sales. The lenses are also sometimes sold in convenience stores.

The six businesses we filed TRO's against today are breaking the law by selling cosmetic contact lenses without a prescription and thereby endangering the vision of many Ohio citizens, said Dann. For this reason, we asked Ohio Courts today for assistance in forcing these businesses to stop selling these contacts."

Legally, all contact lenses must be purchased with a valid prescription, said Dann. Black market decorative contact lenses have been made available to the public at such places as gas stations, beauty supply stores, and Halloween costume shops. These black market lenses are sold to the public without the benefit of a proper fit or education about the care and use of the contact lenses from qualified, licensed eye care professionals.

Improper care and ill-fitting contact lenses may result in corneal ulcers or infections that can lead to blindness, said Nancy Manns, executive director of the Ohio Optical Dispensers Board.

Meanwhile, according to the National Retail Federation's Halloween Consumer Intentions & Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, consumers are expected to spend more on Halloween this year than last year, with the average person planning to spend $64.82 on the holiday compared to $59.06 one year ago. Total Halloween spending for 2007 is estimated to reach $5.07 billion.

The average person will spend $23.33 on Halloween costumes (including children's and pet's costumes), though young adults will spend more. The survey said 18-24 year-olds plan to be the most festive, spending $34.06 on costumes, nearly twice as much as they plan to spend on candy ($19.65). According to the survey, average spending will rise in all categories, including candy ($19.84), decorations ($17.73) and greeting cards ($3.92).

The most popular activity on Halloween this year will be handing out candy, with nearly three-fourths (72.9%) of consumers planning to stay home to hand out treats. Other popular activities will include pumpkin carving (43.3%), decorating a home or yard (47.8%) and throwing or attending a Halloween party (28.3%).

The survey also ranked top adult and children's costumes. Once again, little girls everywhere have ranked princess as their top choice for dressing up this year (10.7%). Spider-Man comes in second at 4.8%, followed by a pirate (4.7%), witch (4.2%) and fairy (2.8%). New additions to the list this year include Disney's Hannah Montana, which comes in at 23rd on the list, immediately followed by Harry Potter.

An estimated one in 10 celebrants (11%), or 7.4 million households, plan on dressing a pet in some sort of costume this year. Devils (12%) and pumpkins (9.2%) top the list of pet costumes, with witches (4.5%), princesses (3.8%) and angels (3.3%) rounding out the top five.

With nearly 60% of consumers planning on celebrating Halloween in some way, adults will be hitting the town Halloween night as well. One-third (33.8%) of adults will dress in costume this year, and of those, nearly three-quarters (74.8%) already have a costume in mind. The top five choices consist of traditional favorites such as witch (16.9%), pirate (3.8%), vampire (3.1%), cat (2.5%) and princess (2.2%). Other favorites include a Star Wars character (1.2%), doctor (0.9%) and an athlete (1%).

And according to The Nielsen Co., Schaumburg, Ill., U.S. consumers are expected to purchase more than $2.1 billion in candy this Halloween season. The holiday generates the greatest sales volume of sweets for the entire year, with candy sales expected to jump nearly 63% compared to the previous 10-week period.

Todd Hale, senior vice president of Consumer & Shopping Insights, Nielsen Consumer Panel Services, said, The quantities are big, but the sizes are small. Our review of the Halloween season shows that the overwhelming majority of consumers choose to give miniature candy to trick-or-treaters.

Chocolate and non-chocolate miniature candy generated more than a third (39%) of its annual dollar sales during the Halloween season last year, in comparison to the total candy category, which saw 22% of annual dollar sales in the same period.

Nielsen found that sales jump during Halloween for other spooky and savory items; 89% of annual costume hair coloring sales occur during the 10 weeks leading up to and including Halloween, as do 36% of sales of both refrigerated and shelved ciders and 28% of lollipops.

Shoppers appear to leave their Halloween candy purchases until almost the last minute. Nielsen's data shows that October 29 and April 15 (the day before Easter Sunday) were the top two days in terms of dollar sales last year. HalloweenOctober 31also ranks in the top 10.

Other findings from Nielsen:

97% of households purchase candy at least once during the year. The average candy-buying household spent $74.68 during the year on candy and purchased candy 19.2 times per year. 85% of all candy buyers purchased candy in grocery stores. 24% of all candy dollar purchases involved a consumer-perceived deal, such as coupons or store deals.

A separate survey conducted by Corporate Research International found:

86% will distribute candy to neighborhood children. 68% will buy candy for the home or office. 62% will decorate outside the house. 57% will decorate inside the house. 50% will help children in household trick-or-treating. 38% will wear Halloween theme casual apparel. 37% will attend a Halloween party. 17% will wear a costume to work.

About 41.5% ofabout 120respondents to a Kraft/CSP Daily News poll yesterday asking Are you offering bags of candy in your stores this year for Halloween? said yes, while about 58.5% said no.