MYRTLE BEACH — By October the crowds have thinned in downtown Myrtle Beach, but this year you might have to side-step a zombie along Ocean Boulevard.
For the first time, the Oceanfront Merchants Association is aiming to capitalize on the growing popularity of Halloween by introducing Fright Nights in downtown Myrtle Beach on Fridays through Nov. 1 – zombies and all.
Downtown merchants and other Grand Strand businesses are increasingly using the holiday aiming to lure potential visitors during the slower fall season or entice others to stop by their store, attraction or park for Halloween events.
“Having two year-round haunted houses down here is already kind of weird,” said Chris Walker, president of the merchants association who also owns one of those attractions downtown, Nightmare Haunted House. “So we can take a product like Halloween and capitalize on it. … Halloween is one of the hottest holidays right now.”
A $7 billion industry including the sale of costumes, décor and candy, Halloween has become more popular over the past 10 years, said Michele Biordi, executive director of the Halloween Industry Association. Based in New Jersey, the association represents businesses involved in the manufacture, importation or distribution of Halloween products including costumes, decor, novelty items and party supplies.
“It’s getting really popular, especially with small businesses because it gives them another marketing opportunity,” Biordi said. “It’s growing steadily every year.”
The Fright Nights in Myrtle Beach will feature haunted tours at Ripley’s Haunted Adventure and Nightmare Haunted House for a special combination price and “zombies” roaming the Boulevard. Saturday nights feature live music in Plyler Park on Ocean Boulevard at Mr. Joe White Avenue through Nov. 2.
Participating businesses will offer Fright Night deals and Hammerhead Grill, on the boardwalk at Seventh Avenue North, will host a kids’ costume contest at 4 p.m. Oct. 26. .
“We’re looking at it as a chance to create a regional center … and there’s an opportunity to do something in the future like what Universal [Studios] does,” Walker said. “They’re set up like a city center or a downtown.”
Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., holds Halloween Horror Nights, which features eight haunted houses and live shows.
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brad Dean said local businesses can use Halloween promotions to lure locals and visitors to their stores.
“Halloween is not typically a strong travel holiday, but it does spur retail and entertainment activity,” he said.
Kathy Grannis, spokeswoman with the National Retail Federation, said Halloween is not one of the biggest grossing holidays – being that it’s not gift-driven – but businesses steadily have been working the holiday into its marketing.
“In recent years we’ve seen an explosion of different activities associated with Halloween,” she said. “And it gets people into their stores at a time when they’re rolling out their holiday merchandise.”
Biordi said the fascination with horror films and shows in recent years is boosting young adult’s interest in participating in Halloween events. For example, the season premiere of AMC’s zombie-themed “The Walking Dead” pulled in 16.1 million viewers Oct. 13, making it the most watched cable network show ever.
In downtown Myrtle Beach, zombies can be seen for the next couple of Friday nights roaming Ocean Boulevard between Nightmare Haunted House and I Love Sugar.
“It’s funny how people love zombies,” Walker said. “There must have been a burst of thousands of photos that hit Facebook last week of people posing with zombies. Kids love them. They’re not afraid. I think it’s because they move so slow.”
But for those children who might still be afraid to see zombies on Ocean Boulevard, other businesses have gotten in on the act in the past few years that aim to offer a less scary, family experience.
This is the second year that Huntington Beach State Park has offered the Haunted Halloween festival the weekend before Halloween. Interpretive ranger Mike Walker said the weekend before Halloween is one of the busiest weekends for the S.C. Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism. Mike Walker is of no relation to Chris Walker.
“The campground is already completely booked,” Mike Walker said Wednesday. “[Haunted Halloween] is easily the program that we get the most calls about all year.”
On Oct. 25 and Oct. 26, the park will offer two haunted house attractions of varying scariness at the Atalaya “castle,” as well as carnival games, arts and crafts, vintage “Scooby-Doo” cartoons and local ghost stories.
“A nice benefit of the Halloween program is that it gets people into Atalaya and learning a bit of history,” Mike Walker said.
Mike Walker said the park wanted to offer a more family-friendly Halloween experience than might be found at haunted attractions in the area, something that Barb Krumm also said was a goal when Ocean Lakes Family Campground began to promote its Halloween celebration in 2008.
The campground’s Halloween weekends have gotten so popular, it added another weekend of events this year, making three consecutive weekends of Halloween celebrations.
Only registered guests at Ocean Lakes are able to participate in the campground’s Halloween festivities being offered the next two weekends, which will include pumpkin carving contests, costume contests for people and pets, a magic show and trick-or-treating.
“It’s very good family fun that’s become extremely popular,” Krumm said. “We cater to families by offering trick-or-treating from 4:30 to 6:30 [p.m.] when it’s still light out for kids who might be afraid of the dark.”
Biordi, with the Halloween Industry Association, said the opportunities for businesses that don’t traditionally benefit from the Halloween holiday are endless.
“There are even paintball places where you can go and shoot zombies for Halloween [in New Jersey],” she said.
Chris Walker said he hopes that OMA will be able to expand on the downtown Fright Nights, offering more specials and activities.
“No one’s making any money right now so … if we can take October and turn it into an April – creating a weekend trip to the region – we’re putting heads in beds,” he said. “Everyone wins.”
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722 or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_MPrabhu.