Austin candy, costume businesses share eagerness towards Halloween season

Sofia Treviño, Life & Arts Senior Reporter

Even without a steady stream of sweet-toothed customers, Big Top Candy Shop’s shelves stayed stocked, full of candies ranging from swirling lollipops to Harry Potter chocolate frogs. Within the yellow and red striped walls of the South Congress store, general manager Spike Sayen felt the absence of customers eager to experience the unique shopping experience.

“Some of this candy you can buy anywhere, but it’s just the experience of coming in here … we really do help to make memories down here,” Sayen said.

Quarantined with no 2020 Halloween celebrations, some Austinites found fewer reasons to visit businesses oriented towards the holiday last year. Now, with Austin back at Stage 3 COVID-19 guidelines, people can gather more freely for Halloween, which invites more customers to visit Halloween stores. Austin business owners like Sayen feel eager to share not only their products but also their positive energy with their new and returning customers.

Even though they offered curbside pickup throughout the pandemic, Sayen said few drifted into the South Congress store. However, loyal customers and community members helped relieve worrisome thoughts of the store becoming another business that wouldn’t make it through the pandemic.

“We lost a lot of our (business) neighbors,” Sayen said. “It was frightening because it was a very uncertain time for everyone. Our landlord and the people have been super cooperative and really helped us stay on board.”

A Cut Above Costumes — a costume rental store with thousands of outfits and personalized service — shut down one of its two warehouses to save money during the pandemic. Now, with more vaccinated people in Austin, shop manager Jennifer Butler said she sees more people shopping at the family-owned business.

“(I feel) overwhelmed but also relieved that we’re not gonna have to do jumping jacks and backflips to try and stay afloat,” Butler said.

Stressing less about keeping the store open, Butler said she looks forward to focusing on making sure customers receive costumes they love.

“People are really excited to show us (pictures) with all their makeup and our costumes on,” Butler said. “That’s the most rewarding thing about it … being able to see (our costumes) in action.”

Creating the Austin Bright Light Design in 2017, Gerry Gilligan and Jason Balcauski “spread their light” through their LED costumes ranging from glasses to their popular firefly cloak — a cape embellished with holographic sequins and bright LED lights.

“Whenever you see our cloaks in a crowd, people come and ask, ‘What is that? Let me touch it,’” Balcauski said. “(That’s) why we started the company, we wanted that feeling of spreading joy.”

Balcauski said the business saw a 50% drop in income over the past year since elaborate cloaks weren’t practical to wear during quarantine. He said he missed feeling connected to his customers, but seeing more people receive vaccinations, celebrate Halloween and attending music festivals brings his spirits back up.

“‘We put more light in your night and more glow in your soul’ is one of our taglines,” Balcauski said. “To be isolated like that, it was very tough. We’re glad things are starting to return to normal now that vaccines are out and people are getting themselves healthy.”