Imagine my surprise when I pulled into the parking lot of the store where my kids have picked out their Halloween costume for the last half dozen years or so and - much like many other buildings throughout Connecticut - there was a huge “For Lease” sign there to greet us.
We didn’t get the memo!
This had been a place of pure joy for us ever since moving to Branford back in 2014. I’d once taken demoralized preteens into this now-empty space - certain the costumes they were seeking probably didn’t even exist - only to leave with them both wearing those very costumes. Yes, we had pulled in with one wearing a Tisko Elementary T-shirt and the other sporting a Walsh Intermediate tee, but I exited alongside The Winter Soldier and Black Widow, respectively.
There were years they even went into the store not knowing who they wanted to be for Halloween yet, but still left with both smiles and costumes. I’d begun purchasing Halloween decorations for the house at the place, too. Yet here we were, staring at more empty brick and mortar, only the aroma of Whoppers wafting toward us to lessen the unexpected agony.
Thankfully, in this online day and age (and the aforementioned Burger King), the stun and sadness wore off in a jiffy. Fact is, Halloween costumes will never again be a problem for a kid. They know this.
In fact, in record time my son was shouting from the back seat (seriously - shouting), “There’s a Spirit Halloween Shop in North Haven!”
I nodded in the rearview mirror, exchanging eye contact with the boy, yet he still felt compelled to say “Spirit” one more time, slowly, as if I might’ve misheard him or not fully grasped what he was telling me.
Moreover, he was choosing not to grasp what I had clearly conveyed to him with my eyes: That we would not be going there that day. We’d get there, for sure, but not on that same day.
Get there we did, and they’re quite a wonderful chain. Not only is literally every genre well-represented costume-wise, they go back several decades for many costumes, too. Their “Exorcist” stuff was top notch. Furthermore, tiny “funhouses” and other amusement park-like novelties makes the shopping spree so much more than just that.
Still, I was left to regale my children with the days when such stores did not exist. Of course this was met with a skepticism I am confronted with several times a week.
“Right, Dad,” my teenage daughter said, the words dripping with sarcasm. “So, all those pictures of you in bad Halloween costumes,” added my son. “Where did they come from?”
Those bad Halloween costumes, son? It was called Caldor. And ya know what? They were bad. And the selection was horrible. Winter Soldier? Caldor wouldn’t have even had Iron Man! They’d have just had Captain America and Hulk. My sisters would get stuck with Wonder Woman and have to explain all the way home that she wasn’t even an Avenger; that the awesome Amazonian warrior wasn’t even in the Marvel Universe, but instead a DC Comics character. This was, of course, all lost on our mother.
The elastic band that kept the cardboard-plastic hybrid mask you could barely breathe through in place - left sore, red indentations that lasted until mid-November. The “costume” itself was moreover a plastic covering that you placed over your jeans and tore ridiculously easy. The material veered was like a cheap rain slicker.
“Is that why in every picture the mask is up on top of your head like a pair of sunglasses, and we can see your face?” my son asked one year. (Yes, we’ve had this conversation more than once.)
Indeed it is. The perspiration would build up quickly inside those plasticky masks, and literally within one walking block you’d be swallowing your own sweat. Kids would pull them off after a nice haul at one house huffing and puffing, their faces flush and eyes wide. The eye thing was a combination of excitement about what they just saw get tossed into their pillowcase and disbelief that they hadn’t yet keeled over.
“Pillowcase?” I got the first time I mentioned those, from one of my children seeking an explanation. I declined. That year anyway.
I remember when Caldor sat where a Kohl’s now does, and the exhilaration I’d feel upon my mom finding a parking space. And not just for Halloween costumes. It was also our record store! This, too, succeeds in confounding my offspring. I defer to Urban Outfitters and even Target every time we revisit this, in our Spotify and Pandora day and age. “Oh, so this Caldor was like Urban Outfitters,” my daughter sought to clarify - this variation on “Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus.” Except, no, Stella, Caldor was nothing like Urban Outfitters.