The stores are full of pointy black hats, orange plastic pumpkins, swashbuckling swords and bags of candy corn: Halloween has arrived at area stores.
At Fatman's Forest, Party City and other retail outlets, the scene is much the same - children and parents sifting through costume after costume.
"When I was a kid we used to wait until that afternoon, go into mom's makeup and dad's old clothes and dress up like a bum or a hobo," Ernie Murray said. "Things aren't that simple anymore; they are so sophisticated."
Mr. Murray was one of several people costume hunting recently, trying to find the best and most affordable costumes for his three sons, ages 4, 6 and 11, and his daughter, 13.
Their options were endless: sumo wrestlers, Power Rangers - even a priest or a nun.
Although witches, ghosts and other perennial Halloween favorites are still available, new costumes debut every year, many of them dealing with characters from television and movies.
"Whenever Disney comes out with a movie or there are popular Saturday-morning TV shows, you can rest assured that if it's popular there's going to be a costume," said Dick LoPresti, president of Party City of Atlanta, which has 22 stores in Georgia, including one in Augusta.
Children's costumes are available for characters from Disney's Shrek, as well as Josie and the Pussycats, Digimon, Dragonball and other cartoons.
Arlene Salvesen, a department manager at Kmart on Washington Road, expects Digimon and Dragonball Z to be popular.
"There are a lot of people that come in and buy those things," Ms. Salvesen said. "We have Digimon and Dragonball Z sheets and bedspreads for kids, and a lot of parents come in and buy those. They're really popular."
Another potential big seller this season is the Harry Potter costume, based on the movie due out Nov. 16.
"Harry Potter's excellent," said Michele Hattman, costume manager of Fatman's. "The Harry Potter glasses, the wand and tattoos, the witch hat - all of the Harry Potter stuff is going really, really well."
Mr. LoPresti said that costumes have changed in the past few years, moving from scary to more positive themes.
"There's not so much blood and guts and skeletons as there are action heroes and Power Rangers and that sort of thing," Mr. LoPresti said. "Hopefully, it's because people see Halloween as a fun holiday, not just a scary, ghoulish kind of thing."
The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks also have contributed to the movement away from scary costumes.
Because of the trend, superheroes are back in the spotlight, as are firefighter costumes. Hippies and Renaissance-era costumes of princesses, princes, wizards and jesters also are popular. And don't forget those cute little animals.
"We have a lot of animal prints this year - tigers, zebras, cows - that's a popular thing," said Cindy Hommers, seasonal department manager of Wal-Mart on Bobby Jones Expressway.
Stephanie Hallman picked out a cow costume for her 16-month-old daughter, Meaghan. "We decided on the cow costume after going through a lot of choices," Ms. Hallman said. "We thought it was the cutest and seem to be made of nicer material than a lot of the cheaper costumes."
Last year Meaghan dressed as Winnie the Pooh.
"She still likes Pooh, but this year we wanted a change," Ms. Hallman said. "I think at this age Halloween is as much for the parents as it is for the child. We simply like to see our child dressed in something different and cute, and it gives us a reason to go and show them off to others."
But Halloween costumes aren't just for the children.
Teens and adults can also choose from a wide assortment of costumes, ranging from groovy retro threads to patriotic Uncle Sams and Australian Outback crocodile hunters.
"The most calls I have received have been for the retro," Ms. Hattman said. "We will sell a ton of Afro wigs."
Some adults prefer homemade original designs that are likely to be one-of-a-kind at a party.
"One of my buddies dressed up as a stick of deodorant one year," said 24-year-old Nathan Keip.
Mr. Keip and his friends plan to attend the costume contest at the Partridge Inn, although Mr. Keip doesn't know what costume he'll wear.
"I'm debating on what I'm going to be, but whatever it is, it's going to be different," Mr. Keip said. "I look for a costume that's original. It doesn't matter what it is, if no one else is doing it I'll do it."
Here are some trick-or-treating safety tips from Party City:
1. Make sure the costume fits the child properly. Check the length and trim extra material that could cause a child to trip.
2. Choose costumes made from flame-resistant materials.
3. Make sure masks fit snugly and allow children to see and breathe easily.
4. Equip children with flashlights, glow sticks or reflective accessories so they can be easily seen at night.
5. Limit accessories to one item and a bag or bucket for collecting candy.
6. Children under 10 should be accompanied by an adult or older sibling.
7. Plan a safe route in a familiar area and agree on a time to be back. Remind children to visit only homes that are well lighted.
8. Children should always walk on the sidewalk, not in the street. If there are no sidewalks, walk on the left side of the street facing traffic.
9. Urge children not to run from yard to yard. Many children can get hurt tripping over curbs, bushes or other landscaping.
10. Warn children not to eat any of the candy or treats collected until they return home and an adult has examined them thoroughly.
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