At costume shop, revelers aren't spooked by Covid

Plus: Are you a Teen Talk 'stan'?; Charlotte's top news of the week

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Today’s Ledger is sponsored by Providence Day School. Providence Day School exists to inspire in its students a passion for learning, a commitment to personal integrity, and a sense of social responsibility. Virtual admissions open houses are Oct. 29 and Nov. 8.


At Charlotte’s Morris Costumes, Halloween decorations and costume sales are still boo-ming; Zoom hats, creepy clown face coverings

Amy Morris started Morris Costumes with her husband, Philip, nearly 60 years ago, and today the company is one of the biggest costume distributors in the world. The family still operates a retail costume sales and rental business on Monroe Road that also sells dancewear and sells and rents tuxedos.

by Cristina Bolling

Wondering what Halloween will look like in Charlotte this year? Amy Morris of Morris Costumes has some answers.

She’s been in the costume business in Charlotte for nearly 60 years, and you can consider her family’s big brick store on Monroe Road and their giant distribution center near University City to be like thermometers for the holiday. Plus, Morris and her staff know a thing or two about how Charlotteans celebrate.

This year, there’s a definite will-we-or-won’t-we mood swirling around trick-or-treating and parties because of Covid, which you’d think would point to lower costume sales.

Not so, says Morris. Costume sales are holding steady compared with previous years. What is dragging are rentals of the elaborate costumes Morris Costumes is known for — from fringed flapper dresses to velvet and silk medieval getups.

National numbers back up Morris’ observations. According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, nearly the same number of people plan to dress up for Halloween 2020 compared to Halloween 2019 (46% in 2020 compared to 47% in 2019). However, only 22% plan to attend a Halloween party, compared with 32% last year.

So it’s a safe assumption that there will be fewer big, elaborate Halloween parties, and more smaller-scale celebrations.

Decorations are big sellers: The biggest sellers for Morris this Halloween are the decorations, from flying bats and skeletons to giant webs and spiders.

“People come in and they say, ‘We’ve never decorated before,’ or ‘We usually decorate a little bit but this year we’re going to go all out,’” Morris said. “Many neighborhoods are doing walk-bys. … Everybody wants other people to be able to see what they’ve done.”  

From ghost shows to costume sales: Morris, 84, started Morris Costumes with her late husband, Philip, in the early 1960s. They had roots in show business performing in popular traveling ghost shows, and Philip went on to become a circus ringmaster, actor and theatrical producer.

ROWS OF BUNNY HEADS: Holidays like Christmas and Easter are big in the costume rental business, as people seek Santa suits, Grinch getups and Easter Bunny costumes.

After their children were born, Philip continued to travel for work and Amy took a job for a Charlotte woman who sewed costumes.

But when her daughter kept getting sick in daycare, Amy decided to quit her job and stay home. She knew there was a market for rental costumes — people would always call her former employer looking for rentals — so the Morrises started a costume company in their walk-out basement.

They grew the business and diversified over the years, and now Morris Costumes is one of the biggest costume distributors in the world. The company is now run by Philip and Amy Morris’ children and grandchildren, although Amy Morris works in the Monroe Road shop five days a week.

Their store on Monroe Road also usually does a steady tuxedo rental and dancewear business, which brings in customers year-round.

Costume shops nationally are having trouble staying in business because so many consumers head to online outlets like Amazon when shopping for costumes. What’s kept Morris Costumes successful is its distribution arm, Amy Morris said.

“I see so many of our fellow costumers closing up. We’re just fortunate with how we happened to do our business,” she said.

Quarantine hijinks: Morris Costumes closed on March 19 because of the pandemic, and when it reopened its doors on May 9, the staff wondered who would show up.

Turns out, people were itching to have some fun amidst quarantine monotony.

Shoppers came in looking for costumes for Zoom costume parties, family quarantine parties, or masks and hats to spice up virtual work meetings.

One dad came in looking for masks to spook his kids during quarantine. “He’d make it look like he was leaving and he’d pop back in another door to scare his teenagers,” Morris said.

Covid-themed costumes?: The big sellers this Halloween season haven’t had much to do with Covid. Gangsters and superheroes continue to do well, like in previous years, Morris said.

MENACING MASKS: A new offering at Morris Costumes this year are Covid-appropriate spooky face masks with creepy graphics on them. Health officials have warned that regular Halloween masks don’t protect against the spread of Covid.

The store stocks Covid-appropriate face masks with spooky graphics like creepy clown smiles and skeleton teeth — all of which point to our desire to celebrate even in a strange year.

“It’s really the first holiday that’s come along that you can really celebrate,” Morris said. “You’re not going to go to bar and hang out with a whole group of people. But you still can put up scary stuff and fun stuff and play jokes on each other.”

Reach managing editor Cristina Bolling: cristina@cltledger.com


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Teen talk: Build your vocabulary

Impress and delight the young people in your life by using the words they use. The Ledger shows you how in this occasional Saturday feature.

Today’s word: Stan (noun or verb)

Pronunciation: Stan

Definition: An enthusiastic or obsessive fan. Comes from combining the words “stalker” and “fan.”

Used in a sentence: 

  • “I stan pretty hard for Taylor Swift.”

  • “Don’t say ‘Mickey Mouse sucks’ to Disney stans.”

  • “They stayed up for 24 hours straight watching Harry Potter movies.” “Seriously? What a bunch of stans.”

Ledger analysis: This use of the word “stan” originated from a dark song named “Stan” by rapper Eminem and Dido in 2000 about a fictional obsessive fan who kills himself and his pregnant girlfriend after he’s unable to get Eminem’s attention. It then morphed into a slang term for diehard fans, and was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2019.

— Cecilia Bolling, age 15


This week in Charlotte: In-person voting starts, south Charlotte leads CMS enrollment decline, Vance High renamed, homicides outpace 2019

On Saturdays, The Ledger sifts through the local news of the week and links to the top articles — even if they appeared somewhere else. We’ll help you get caught up. That’s what Saturdays are for.

Politics

  • Harris scraps visit: (WSOC) Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris canceled a planned campaign stop in Charlotte for Thursday after two people affiliated with her campaign tested positive for Covid. She instead held a virtual event, joined by a few local politicians. President Donald Trump plans a rally in Gastonia on Wednesday.

  • Cooper and Forest gubernatorial debate: (WCNC) Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican challenger Dan Forest took part in the first and only debate between the two this election season on Wednesday. The main focus was the pandemic and masks, with the two disagreeing on whether they should be a staple of the state’s response.

  • Judge casts new order on absentee ballots: (AP) Federal Judge William Osteen issued a new injunction requiring North Carolina to ensure ballots are cast with witness signatures. Previously, if the ballot was missing a witness signature, it could be fixed via addendum, but the new rules now require an entirely new ballot.

Education

  • CMS enrollment numbers: (Ledger 🔒) New enrollment figures from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools show the biggest drops in students came at south Charlotte elementary schools, with some posting losses of more than 20% of their students. The biggest dips in middle and high school students, though, were in other parts of town, according to a Ledger analysis of CMS data.

  • New name for Vance: (WBTV) Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools announced it will rename Vance High School to Julius L. Chambers High School. Chambers was a notable local civil rights attorney. Zebulon B. Vance, whose name had been on the school, was a Confederate general and slaveowner.

Local News

  • Mecktoberfest fallout: (Observer) Olde Mecklenburg Brewery defended holding its three-day Mecktoberfest celebration last month, after local health officials and some elected leaders expressed concern that the event was too crowded and revelers weren’t wearing masks. In a statement, the brewery’s founder said the festival did get crowded but only for a few hours one evening, and that the event “was virtually perfect at all other times.” He said the brewery “remains a safe, relaxing place.” Five people who attended later tested positive for Covid, though it is unclear if the virus spread at the celebration.

  • Homicide count continues to rise: (WBTV) A total of three homicides over the span of 12 hours Monday and Tuesday brought Charlotte’s total for the year up to 94. There were 79 at the same time in 2019.

Business

  • Bank earnings fall: (Observer)(WSJ) Bank of America and Wells Fargo released their 3Q earnings this week. BofA was up significantly from 2Q but down compared to 3Q 2019. Wells Fargo’s income took an even larger hit because of the pandemic.

  • How food trucks are pivoting: (Ledger 🔒) As the pandemic shut down the usual office and business-focused hubs for food truck vendors, they made a critical adjustment to their strategies to stay afloat.

Sports

  • Panthers face Covid scare: (Observer) The Carolina Panthers entered the NFL’s Covid-19 protocol after a number of players on the Atlanta Falcons tested positive after the game between the two Sunday. As of Friday, no Panthers had tested positive, and the team’s game against the Chicago Bears this weekend is still set to proceed as planned.

Voter guides

Early voting began Thursday across North Carolina, and it goes until Oct. 31. Here’s the link to locations and hours in Mecklenburg County.

Doing some last-minute research? We’ve got you covered with a selection of handy guides:

  • Charlotte Agenda’s guide is an easy-to-read tour of the races, with context about why they matter. 

  • The Charlotte Observer’s voter guide allows you to type in your address and view your ballot, with links to information about the candidates and races. 

  • Queen City Nerve, Charlotte’s alternative publication, runs down the main races.

  • WFAE’s guide to important dates, registering, requesting absentee ballots and early voting.

Good reads

  • The first day of voting: (Agenda) James McCoy is 95 years old. The World War II veteran waited more than two hours to make sure he could cast his ballot as early voting opened across Mecklenburg County. He didn’t mind, he was just doing his part to have a voice in the process.

  • Kelly King, American success story: (Observer) Kelly King overcame it all as a child: harsh poverty, constant moving, absent parents. Yet he never stopped working to carve out a life for himself. Now, he’s the banking CEO responsible for the monumental BB&T and SunTrust merger into Truist Financial, and he’s not done yet.

  • Leaf-peeper’s guide to the NC mountains: (Our State) Need to get away? A handy itinerary of where the leaves can be found at peak colors in the next few weeks.

Ledger originals

  • Med school diagnosis: (Monday) Last week’s news that Atrium Health and Wake Forest Baptist Health have combined and are planning a medical school in Charlotte is a big deal — mostly because of the prospect of the city expanding medical research capabilities and rounding out our economy.

  • Development hotspot: the ‘Freight District’ (Wednesday 🔒): There’s a lot going on in an area close to uptown that is becoming known as the “Freight District,” where developers are rehabbing old warehouses and industrial buildings into offices and other uses.

  • Airport lounges reopening (Wednesday 🔒): With travelers returning to Charlotte’s airport, the airport’s lounges have all reopened. With info on what you need to do to get into them.

  • Decision looms on reopening — or reclosing (Friday 🔒): With North Carolina’s Covid numbers heading the wrong way, state officials are expected to decide next week whether to alter the state’s rules on businesses. They say they haven’t made any decisions and that they don’t want to move backward as other states have done.

  • Freedom Drive land purchase (Friday 🔒): A Charlotte developer with a history of building commercial projects has bought 9 acres of land on the Freedom Drive corridor and tells The Ledger why.

—David Griffith


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Executive editor: Tony Mecia; Managing editor: Cristina Bolling; Contributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith