Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

Halloween in other cities


A costumed "Wonder Woman" partygoer at last year's Dallas Halloween party.
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As San Francisco officials try to kill this year's Halloween party in the Castro, leaders in other cities are welcoming revelers with open arms and weeklong celebrations. The holiday, quite simply, is a cash cow for city coffers and local businesses.

And to tourist officials, Halloween isn't viewed as a nightmare but as a marketing bonanza. Toronto's tourism office helped launch that city's first weeklong celebration this year and is hopeful it will become a magnet for vacationers looking for some ghoulish fun.

In cities such as San Diego and Dallas, where the official Halloween events are planned for the Saturday night prior to Halloween, since it falls on a Wednesday this year, tourist officials have been plugging the parties to media outlets across the country.

Ross Crusemann, senior vice president of marketing for the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, noted, "Thousands of participants will don their creative best to celebrate one of Dallas' biggest annual events."

Halloween party planners in Canada and across the U.S. contacted by the Bay Area Reporter this week all said they had reacted in shock when they heard San Francisco not only had canceled its Halloween party but also were actively encouraging people not to visit the city come October 31.

"That is unbelievable. It's amazing," said Jeanne Fleming, who organizes the New York Village Halloween Parade, now in its 34th year and one of the country's largest Halloween parties. "I just don't believe in operating from fear. I believe you have to press forward to make sure everything is all right, because it is a small element that causes the trouble."

Fleming works with a San Francisco-based puppet maker who helps design her parade's signature element and has spoken with city officials about the troubles they have encountered with San Francisco's Halloween party. She said her main suggestion was for the city to create its own parade that would start in the Castro and then snake its way to another part of town.

"I talked about how I think part of the problem is with everything being centered in the Castro. You could begin the parade there and pay homage to its roots but then move it out of there so it isn't centered so much in one section of the city where people close in on it. It opens it up to the entire community," said Fleming.

New York's parade attracts two million people to the city's Greenwich Village and three other neighborhoods. The parade itself draws 60,000 participants and lasts four hours from start to finish. It is estimated that it brings in $60 million in tourist dollars and is the biggest night for businesses and restaurants.

"Halloween is huge business," said Fleming.

Bonnie Smith, the special events supervisor for West Hollywood, oversees that city's now 25-year-old Halloween street party. This is the 20th year the city has been involved and Smith expects to have up to 500,000 people show up this year.

Smith said she, too, has fielded phone calls from leaders in San Francisco asking her about her city's approach to the annual street party. Except for problems with public drunkenness, Smith said her event has had little trouble.

"We don't seem to have the issues you guys were dealing with. We don't charge, we don't fence off the area, we don't have metal detectors," said Smith. "It is a good crowd. It is a good event for us."

Susan Christian, the deputy director of the Houston Mayor's Office of Special Events, is working with several promoters of Halloween events this year, including a street party in that city's gay neighborhood. San Francisco officials are discussing establishing a similar office that would oversee planning for next year's Halloween and other events.

"The city of Houston is so supportive of special events," said Christian. "We understand it is vital to the spirit of the city. It brings people together in a really celebratory manner."

Christian said Houston has not had any violence-related problems on Halloween. 

"What we do is recognize it is going to be a fun night and people are going to be out," she said. "What we ensure is all of our departments know where all events are and support them in whatever manner we need to support them."

Toronto is trying to duplicate the success American cities have had with its own Halloweek celebration, which includes pumpkin carving contests and special pumpkin entrees at 11 restaurants in the city's gay village and culminates with a nighttime street block party. The celebration is the brainchild of Larry Peloso, a gay man and events director for the gay area's Church Wellesley Business Improvement Association.

Peloso said several years ago he saw "the potential for Halloween was amazing" and approached city hall and the tourism office about creating a branded event. No other city in Canada has tapped into the holiday to increase visitor traffic, he said.

"What better place than Toronto? We are in the middle of pumpkin country," he said.

Considering how Toronto officials have embraced his idea, Peloso said he couldn't believe San Francisco's leaders want to ditch the holiday this year.

"I was surprised when I heard San Francisco was canceling Halloween. To outright cancel it seemed like a very extreme measure," he said. "They just can't cancel Halloween. It's like canceling Christmas."

Unlike San Francisco's Halloween, which has been marred by violence in recent years, the celebrations in New York and Toronto have largely been safe events, said Peloso and Fleming.

Fleming credited the involvement of both the community and city leaders in the planning process throughout the year for helping make her Halloween parade safe.

"We work closely with the police, who always saw it as a great thing for New York City. They feel the parade keeps the city safe on an otherwise high crime night in the city," she said. "You have to involve the whole community. You have to bring in all the players and hear all about it to figure it out. Sometimes the best solutions come from your strongest critics."

San Francisco officials will present security plans for this year's Halloween at the Eureka Valley Promotion Association's meeting at 7:30 p.m. tonight (Thursday, October 18) at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center at 100 Collingwood Street.

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