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Doom is a boon for scare business

Jim Confer's business is dead. But death is good for a business like his. This Halloween season, Effect Masters has sold about 4,000 tombstones, 400 mausoleums and 3,000 sound effects tapes to stores, haunted houses, rides and regular people out for a hauntingly good time.

"A shoestring business is what this is," Confer said. "We started small, and we're just constantly growing."

Effect Masters, a subsidiary of the House of Make Believe, has been in business since March. In that time, it has been able to capture the attention of Disney World, distributors as far away as Alaska and a 62-acre haunted hay ride in Austin, Texas.

"We sold everything we anticipated, plus got reorders," said Norman Bernard, one of Confer's two partners. "If our stuff wasn't good, they wouldn't buy them."

The creator of doom is in a rather ordinary looking industrial park off Hercules Avenue. It would be easy to miss Effect Master's darkly tinted door, marked by only a small sticker bearing the company's name.

Inside the reception area are examples of creator Confer's work.

A Doom Door is propped in one corner of the room. Confer said the door made of plastic foam seems suitable for a dungeon or witch's castle in a B movie, but it can be placed easily over any door. It's a far cry _ and a more realistic one _ from the grocery store variety plastic door covers decorated with pumpkins and scarecrows.

The doom stones, including a line of life-size headstones and grave markers, hang on the wall. The gray markers were modeled after 18th-century remnants found at a graveyard in the Northeast, Confer explained. Grave markers, which retail for $12 to $90 and add a nice touch at birthday parties, can be engraved with the name of a loved one, he said.

"We wanted to make it look like it's been out in the weather for 200 years," Confer said. "Most people want authentic-looking stuff."

In a back room, workers paint more tombstones, and above-ground crypts and mausoleums are readied for haunted houses, parties and stores.

A headless horseman was destined for the roof of a Bardmoor home, where a private Halloween party was scheduled last weekend. The figure is at least 10 feet tall; the horse's eyes are made of blinking red lights.

That party, estimated to cost $2,000 to set up, also was to include a scene of Frankenstein in a graveyard, Dracula swooping down on guests and tables made of crypts, Confer said.

"It's a lot of fun," he said. "It's like being allowed to play like a kid all day long."

Confer, 42, has been involved with local theater, creating props and special effects for 20 years.

A year ago, he got together with Yvonne Bernard, owner of the House of Make Believe, and her son, Norman. Bernard began selling doom stones at her costume and party supply business.

When they sold well, the trio took the product to a marketers convention in Chicago. From there, business throughout the country picked up, Confer said.

"So far we've got a pretty good team and it's just going gangbusters," he said.

Confer, who has been preoccupied with Halloween for four months, already is thinking ahead to next year. He hopes to mass-produce Doom Doors and skulls next year and wants to set up an open house.

Sketches hung on his office wall detail a haunted castle that can be turned into a Christmas castle.

"Our Halloween lasts for four months," Confer said. "When I go home to relax now, I put on Christmas music."

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