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The Halloween Superstore

By: onipar

Before Walmart, Target, and Spirit Halloween, the best Halloween shopping experience for me was a local drugstore, Genovese Drugs. Genovese was a comparatively small chain, located in the northeast (mostly New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut) before being bought out by Eckard in 1998. But for me, a young Brooklyn kid in the ‘80s, Genovese was a haven of otherworldly goods not found in the other small shops in the neighborhood. Better yet, their prices were low enough that I could walk in with a pocketful of loose change and leave with at least a couple Halloween goodies.

There were probably malls and superstores already cropping up around the country. And to be sure, Spencer’s Gifts was kicking around, though it wouldn’t acquire Spirit Halloween until 1999. Still, my entire world was Bensonhurst, where my own two legs could carry me. There were no malls in the neighborhood, and there were no dedicated Halloween stores.

There was only Genovese.

You all had a Genovese back then. Maybe it was called Peoples Drug or Brooks Pharmacy. Maybe it was some local mom and pop shop like Vincent Drugs in Halloween 4. Whatever it was, I’m willing to bet your drug store, just like mine, transformed into a glowing orange beacon every October. Suddenly pumpkins and scarecrows, black cats and skeletons adorned the glass doors and display windows. Like magic, the candy packaging would turn all orange and black.

I still remember wandering the haunted aisles of costumes, candy, decorations, and toys. Every step transported me from the real world and into an unreality of ghosts and goblins. A place where jack-o’-lanterns could spring to life if a spell-touched candle were lit inside their gutted bodies. Would the reanimated Cucurbita corpses bite my hand off with their newly formed fangs? Or vomit candy corn (I’m convinced this is where candy corn actually comes from) into a nearby trick or treat pail?

No matter, there was always too much to see and hard choices to be made.

For instance, would I purchase one of the pervasive Ben Cooper “smock costumes” laid out in neat piles, each carboard box presented like a spooky Christmas present. All of the popular cartoon character of the day were represented. When I was really young, my parents dressed me up as Count von Count from Sesame Street. In later years, I’d beg for a He-Man and various monster Collegeville costumes.

Later still I would become obsessed with the various makeup kits that could be found hanging from metal hooks throughout the aisles. White face paint and red blood were all I needed for a fantastic holiday, but some years I’d go even further. One Halloween in particular stands out in my memory, when my face was covered with some kind of sticky liquid plastic (maybe latex?) mixed with oatmeal. The night went wonderfully, until it came time to remove the atrocious concoction. I thought my skin would peel off right along with the latex.

Beyond costumes and makeup, some of my all-time favorite Halloween purchases were the trinkets that every drug store carried. I’m talking about the tiny plastic pumpkins that would squeak as they revealed a ghost or cat hiding beneath the lid. Or the “spinner toy” pumpkin that would spin so fast it bloomed like a terrible flower. The hanging plastic skeletons, the rubber bats, the plastic rings, and the devil heads. These toys were scattered throughout the aisles like forgotten treasures. Many children overlooked the bounty and headed straight for the candy, but to me, these plastic trinkets were the hidden gems of Halloween.

Even things as innocuous as Halloween erasers or little plastic rats elicit a shiver of nostalgia. Though, perhaps nothing has a deeper effect on my senses than vintage Halloween treat bags. Whether they were the freebie bags from local stores, or special reinforced ones from Genovese, I was always a treat bag kid. As much as I loved a good pumpkin pail, it boggled my young mind to think anyone would limit the night’s haul of candy to the tiny confines of a plastic pumpkin.

Like so many other things from my youth, Genovese Drug Store is gone, but some of that old wonderment can still be had. Even now, as Halloween grows in popularity, old-style decorations like blow molds are experiencing a momentary resurgence.

I can only hope squeaky pumpkins and spinner toys are not far behind.

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onipar Posted on Oct 18, 2021 at 01:26 AM

@Vaporman, Never been to a Hills, sounds perfect!

@Beb, thanks! HA, yeah, the smell of a drugstore was pretty unique. Yeah, there was just something special about the smaller drugstores and the type of stuff they'd carry. Around Christmas too.

Benjanime Posted on Oct 17, 2021 at 07:51 PM

i would give anything to be able to walk around stores like this again, even the smell of the store itself can just give a wave of nostalgia, that is if a clerk isn't given the freedom of not needing to use a deodorant stick lol. so many great memories just looking at the photos, i really miss it. i recall going out with my older brother a couple of times on small walks with him to stores like these at least a few years before he decided to move away. great article!

Vaporman87 Posted on Oct 17, 2021 at 06:19 PM

Hills typically served as my one stop Halloween shop, though I know I picked up more than a few novelties for the season in drug and convenience stores.

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