Halloween at the Strip Mall

September 15, 2021 —
Used to be, when we were looking to celebrate the Halloween Season with our cash, we went to the mall. You could always rely on a certain percentage of mall stores throwing out the bat-shaped welcome mat—candle stores, candy stores, pop culture stores, seasonal stores, home decor stores, gift stores, coffee shops, and if you had an anchor store like Target, even better. You just strolled your way leisurely around the season, stopping at some point for bourbon chicken at the Food Court.

But malls were drying into dead slugs even before the pandemic. Now I haven’t been to the mall in so-long-ago-I-don’t-remember-when. I assume a lot of metal security gates are down.

To replace that loss of creepy capitalism, we’ve contented ourselves with driving to standalone stores. We made the best of it by throwing in some Halloween tunes, but it often still felt more like errand-running than a Halloween excursion, the equivalent of getting the dry cleaning and bread and the oil changed. In the car, out of the car. In the car, out of the car.

In Nashua, New Hampshire—my town—we’ve solved the issue, inadvertently, with a strip mall. Yup. A strip mall.

Westside Plaza is full of stores I only visit in September and October. You can walk from one end to the other of the L-shaped arrangement, stopping at almost every store to check out their black and orange wares. And we did. And, although it’s still a little early for all of them to be fully stocked, we bought some stuff. No bourbon chicken, though.

Big Lots:
What I like about the Halloween section at Big Lots is that it’s large and never spoiled on the socials.

JOANN Fabrics and Crafts
: Not as great a Halloween destination as Michaels, but it did have Styrofoam Frankenstein heads that I regret not buying.

Party City: This store actually shuttered during the pandemic, but it was where I came when I needed some last-minute Halloween thing. And it was rarely for a party. And in one case, it was for a horse stall.

Home Goods: One of the highlights of Halloween shopping for me, although I can’t quite tell you why. We bought candles (one of which was inside a cauldron) and pumpkin-shaped pasta.

Marshall’s: We bought a wine glass with a glass pumpkin in it for Lindsey and, for me, a martini class with a jack-o-lantern in a tiny snow globe of black snow for a base. Lindsey broke mine within one hour of us getting it home. Apparently her costume this year is green-eyed monster.

NH Liquor and Wine Outlet: This store usually does a cool Halloween display. I was too early for it on this visit, but we did picked up some apple Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Apple. We originally wanted to make caramel appletinis, but the store was out of DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker and, according to the salesperson I asked, had been for a long time. So many unsung victims of the pandemic.

Market Basket: Market Baskets, in my experience, don’t do seasonal aisles, even though they do stock a lot of Halloween items. They just sprinkle everything throughout, making for a fantastic opportunity to do a Halloween grocery store scavenger haunt. We found our first Monster Cereals on this jaunt.

Spirit Halloween: This year is the first that the plaza has had a Spirit. It possessed a standalone Piers 1 across the parking lot that closed last year, and has the best atmosphere of any Spirit I’ve ever been to. No dingy tile floors and bright fluorescents like most of the carcasses Spirit inhabits. Instead, the earthly remains of this stylish shop are a black ceiling, red walls, and soft light—perfect for a Halloween store.

Like the guy who wakes up naked with blood on his pillow and a strange, overly full feeling, I don’t think the strip mall realizes what it’s becoming yet. I hope the owner and tenants do, though, and lean into it. Decorate the lot, park a cider donut truck, add a photo op (it can be inflatable, that’s fine). Just make the plaza a month-long Halloween block party.