When we met in the 70s disco aisle, Richard Parrott was in a dark blue suit, a black shirt, orange tie, Joker-red hair, and fingernails coated with red stop signs for a recent charity he attended. On the streets of Manhattan, he might stand out. But in his own store, he's like any other customer: He's getting ready for tomorrow.
"Halloween used to be a children's holiday," he said, before stepping aside to help a young woman grab a garter from the top of an emptying shelf. "But they can wear these costumes whenever they want. Adults can't.
"So now, it's the equivalent of St. Patrick's Day: it's this one time when those boundaries can be broken for us," he continued. "And it's a fashion event."
Parrot is the President of Ricky's NYC, the most popular chain of costume stores this side of the Hudson. And today—the 24-hour countdown to October 31—is basically what his "beauty shop," and, seemingly, thousands of New Yorkers above the age of 18, live for.
When I arrived at lunchtime on Friday, the line stretched the entire length of the interior, with Pitbull blasting from the speakers to keep people's blood pulsing. Every time I blinked, the line grew. And apparently, that was nothing compared to the day before—at least not yet.
Mike Tacuri, the store manager, weaved me through a maze of costumes ranging from a young Justin Bieber (for kids) to "Goddess Lustalicious" (for whoever), just to show how long the line grew on Thursday. But today, he said, was the busiest day of the year, by far; the holiday itself landing on a weekend probably helped, too. He'll be here until the customers leave, a time which is anyone's guess at this point.
"This is Christmas. This is bigger than Christmas," Tacuri told me, squeezing in between five people trying on five different costumes. "This is every holiday wrapped into one."
"We're essentially preparing all year round," Parrott added. "The conversation never stops." He later told me that this specific spot, on 14th Street and Fifth Avenue, was 8,300 square feet of flair, and only a month old. It had been built in less than three weeks in September; a rotting RadioShack next door was knocked down to accommodate the hundreds, if not thousands, of costumes from China that were put on the shelves over the course of three hectic days.
Ricky's is open year-round for all your wig-shopping needs, but a lot of New Yorkers only come here in the run-up to Halloween. On October 30, it's the kind of place where you can overhear questions like, "Do you think I can fit into this tutu?" and statements such as, "I like the Princess Leia slave costume because it's just a bra," and phone exchanges that include, "It's a costume party: there's gonna be food, there's gonna be liquor, and there's gonna be strippers... Yeah, bitch."
Make no mistake: In New York, Halloween is an adult holiday. There's only one shelf of toddler costumes, but an entire alcove devoted to dildos and sexpot costumes like "Fantasy Player" (a baseball cap and jersey with a deep, deep V-neck) and "Roaring 20s Honey."
One employee named Shawn said the item people kept requesting was a full-naked body suit (Ricky's didn't have it). Another employee, Max, had to think for a second when I asked him the same question. His list was ultimately more tame: Alicia Silverstone's character in Clueless, Jack Skeleton from A Nightmare Before Christmas, space helmets, and a Reno 911! officer. Weirdly enough, he noted, Red Riding Hood was the big-ticket item this year for women.
The men I encountered seemed more into Star Wars, understandable with the long-awaited sequel on the horizon. I ran into two 21-year-olds, Joshua and Mitch, while they were through Vader masks, lightsabers, and Chewbacca onesies. "We just haven't had time to get one of these until now," one said.
The time constraint was the number-one reason customers gave for being in this beyond-packed cavern on a Friday afternoon. In an already-over-scheduled world, it's tough to find the time to choose between an Insane Clown Posse mask and a zombie Bill Clinton.
Parrott shrugged off this last-minute nature as symptomatic of the growing global Halloween industry. "Brick-and-mortar places used to be scared of e-commerce, because they thought everyone would buy their costumes online," he explained. "Actually, it's quite the opposite. Now, more people are coming in with their phones and just pointing to a photo they found on Instagram. 'I want that.'"
The people who spend weeks crafting a costume aren't in Ricky's, at least not at this last minute: Everyone here is looking to get in and get out. Truth be told, it's not the friendliest place on earth to be in the middle of a rush. Signs everywhere remind customers that all sales are final, and, after a while, endless Top 40 can be dizzying. The store crackles with the unique pre-game energy you only get when you cram together hundreds of people who plan to be masked and shitfaced in the dark 24-odd hours from now.
One customer, a 30-year-old named David, had already picked up what he described as a "mix between a cat and a zebra" at a 99 cents store near his house in Brooklyn. But he was here, at Ricky's in Manhattan, for reasons he almost couldn't explain. "Being a part of this madness," he said, looking for something to make his cat-zebra hybrid a sexy cat-zebra hybrid. "It's a part of the tradition."
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