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Christmas is the big sales time for most retailers, but thrift stores see their biggest season right now as people put together Halloween costumes and buy coats and sweaters to keep warm in winter.

In the window of the Salvation Army store on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Niagara Falls, a bride of Frankenstein and a fairy princess encourage customers to buy a wedding gown or prom dress for a Halloween costume. The dresses start at $12, said Judy Capstick, manager of the recently remodeled Niagara Falls store.

"October is a very busy month," said Mary Scapillato, who manages the 11 Salvation Army stores in this area. "We get a lot of people coming in looking for costumes. Some want to buy an outfit. Others are looking for material and fabric."

The Salvation Army would not say how much money the stores make or how much of it comes from October.

For Goodwill, 18 percent of the $3 million its local stores generates each year happens during October, said Karen Anderson who oversees the nine Goodwill stores in this area.

"For the thrift shop industry, October is our heaviest sales month of the year over the traditional December for most of retail," she said. "The reason for that is we're putting out merchandise such as coats and sweaters, and we get a lot of traffic in the stores because of Halloween."

Goodwill has a two-page list of suggested costumes that could be found in their stores, such as a nurse, soldier or even a ghost. "You can get a sheet real cheap from us," Anderson said.

Three-quarters of U.S. consumers are planning to shop for Halloween this year, and they expect to spend substantially more than they did last year -- $61 on average, compared with $43 in 2000, according to the International Mass Retail Association, which represents sellers such as Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target.

"Americans are looking for a reason to have some fun in these trying times," said IMRA President Robert J. Verdisco.


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