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Halloween entertainment gives theme parks a financial boost

Halloween generates some startling profits. Retailers expect to earn more than 3 billion dollars in Halloween related sales. And in recent years, amusement parks here in Ohio and around the nations are cashing in on the holiday.

Up until about 10 years ago Amusement parks were summer time attractions. Memorial Day to Labor Day. Come September, the rides shut down, the midway was shuttered. Now, as the leaves turn, autumn is generating a windfall for amusement parks and similar summer-time venues.

The 11- billion dollar amusement park industry turns to Halloween to extend the season and generate revenue. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions represents hundreds of parks around the country. Its spokeswoman, Beth Robertson says Halloween is a natural fit for thrill themed amusement parks. "Halloween being a scary focus is great for children of all ages and they really like to be in that environment." Says Robertson.

It's believed Knott's Berry Farm in California was the first park to focus on Halloween 15 years ago. Within the past 5-10 years, just about every other park has set up Halloween exhibits. It's hard to get firm numbers on how much Halloween is worth to amusement parks. The editor of the trade magazine Amusement Business - James Zoltak estimates Halloween is worth about 300 million dollars to theme parks nationwide. He says up until 10 years ago, most of that revenue went uncaptured by amusement parks.

Zoltak points out the profit margin for Halloween is also high because Halloween displays are a lot cheaper than building a million dollar roller coaster. "The thrills and the chills are basically generated by people hiding and jumping out with chainsaws with the chain taken out and scaring the bejesus out of people." Says Zoltak.

Cedar Point, near Cleveland, began its Halloween activities 9 years ago. Bryan Edwards speaks for the Sandusky park. "When we first started it 9 years ago, we were just sticking our toe in the water, but it has grown every year." Edwards declined to release attendance figures, but he says the Halloween activities generate new and repeat business.

It's hard to get firm numbers on how much Halloween is worth to amusement parks. Analysts suggest its worth tens of millions of dollars.

It's not just amusement parks that see gold in the harvest colors. Leaders at the Columbus Zoo expect the two "Boo at the Zoo" weekends to attract 50 thousand visitors. That's about double the normal fall weekend attendance at the Zoo. During this past weekend and next weekend, the zoo encourages kids to dress up. Private companies hand out candy and the zoo provides rated G Halloween entertainment and ghost story readings. The Zoo's special events coordinator Lisa Beebe says the event captures is a chance for the zoo to capture some leftover summer revenue.

Columbus' minor league baseball team looks to bats of a different type to make money in the fall. Cooper Stadium's Terror Park is in its 8th year. Organizers say its rated PG-13 with displays and performances that are scarier and gorier than the zoo's event. Clippers president Ken Schnacke says the haunted house business has been "off and on" over its seven year history. The terror attacks of 9-11 hurt business. But he says the event keeps the park active for an extra month.

Schnacke says Halloween competition among local attractions in Central Ohio has evened out as some venues have dropped out of the market in recent years. Nationally, Amusement Business magazine editor Zoltak says while the Halloween theme park market is nearing the saturation point there is room for some theme parks to make additional money scaring people with other kinds of thrills.