Outdoor antics lure customers with Halloween 'spirit' in South Portland
SOUTH PORTLAND — Outside appearances make a great contribution to the inside bottom line at Spirit Halloween in the Target Plaza.
For two people who spend their days in costume waving at motorists and directing customers to the store, it's all part of the holiday fun.
“I like the camaraderie with people,” said Brian Robinson, 53. “I get tired, but God gives me the energy. I can smile and make people’s day.”
Robinson was dressed as a pirate Wednesday, screaming "arghh" at drivers entering and leaving the shopping plaza via Cummings Road.
It was less than menacing, but his exuberance is what store operator Deede Dunbar said she looks for each year when hiring wavers.
“This is the best form of advertising,” Dunbar said. “It’s the hardest job in the store. There are out there baring their souls.”
On the other side of the Maine Turnpike on Tuesday, Robert Richardson staked out a spot at the corner of Maine Mall and Gorham roads, wearing a fluorescent green, inflatable clown suit adorned with a white mask streaked with garish red facial features.
“This one is my favorite,” Richardson said. “It’s colorful, people notice you in it.”
The two men are staples this year, Dunbar said – dependable, energetic and very visible.
"Brian and Robert are upper echelon," she said. “You have to be a bit of an entertainer, have stamina and be patient.”
For nine years, Dunbar has relied on wavers to draw notice to the store, which opens annually from early September through early November in available locations. Spirit Halloween is a national chain that sells online and in stores; Dunbar also operated stores in Waterville and Bangor.
She said she finds ready applicants each year for wavers, who work on sunny days and are given the option to work in light rain. But too often, she said, the people hired find out it is not for them. Dunbar has tried it herself, and she knows it is not for everyone.
"The sign gets heavy, it gets windy," she said. "It's not just the danger of the traffic; you are open to applause or ridicule."
After enduring hires who napped on the job or were caught texting when they should be waving, and one person who rejected about 10 costumes before deciding he had "image issues," Dunbar said she knows who works best to deliver the store message.
"My favorite would be to hire a mime," she said.
Robinson and Richardson said response they receive is mostly positive – a friendly wave or honk of a horn. Frequent shoppers at Target Plaza on Running Hill Road are likely to greet Robinson as a friend, he said.
His response is the same for negative gestures or comments, he said.
"I just keep laughing," he said.
Richardson has worked temporary jobs as a laborer and said being a waver is easier, and there is always a choice of costumes to wear.
South Portland resident Rachel Kimball said she and her two children have shopped at Spirit Halloween several times.
"They love it. They wave, and it makes the car rides easier when we can play spot the character," she said as they looked over props, wigs and makeup.
Being a waver is not a job all customers think they would want. Saco resident Tatum LeClair said she loved seeing Robinson dressed as a pirate.
"But I'd feel really weird," she added.
Robinson said he worked as a waver in Auburn in the past.
"I killed it," he said. "I had the parking lot full of people."