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Scaring up a frighteningly good time

All the planning, all the primping and all the painting the town orange and black has all come down to this day.

Anthony Harwood of Westchase will leave work early to build a haunted house.

Northdale's Natalie Williams will spruce up her scarecrow. Rick Brennan will sell pumpkins and offer carving advice from a stand on Ehrlich Road.

Danielle Edelmann of Carrollwood will dress herself and her horse up in Halloween costumes. Yep, her horse. In fact, watch where you step: Horses will carry some trick-or-treaters through area neighborhoods.

Just about everywhere, just about everyone will do something Halloween-related. Whether it's nothing more than watching It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on TV tonight while eating some of the Halloween candy purchased for the trick-or-treaters or hosting a huge bash, renting an exotic Dracula costume and reading The Legend of Sleepy Hollow to the children, it is hard to just say no to Halloween.

Party store and costume shop managers say shoppers north of Tampa have embraced the holiday this year.

To decorate their homes, happy Halloweeners bought anything that made noise, talked, shook or moved at The Big Party in University Mall. The scarier the better. Not long after the store's August 10 opening, the large-size decorative coffins were sold out.

At the Party City store in Carrollwood, 3-D glow-in-the dark wall plaques and cardboard tombstones have been big sellers for haunted home decor. Faux spider webs and cardboard cutouts have been purchased for inside the home.

Two Factory Card Outlet stores opened a month ago in north Hillsborough. The Carrollwood location sold plenty of banners and outdoor decorations, but today the crew expects to do their largest volume of sales. "With it on a Friday, it will be a whole weekend celebration," said district manager Cindy Kensky.

It seems that just a pumpkin is not enough.

"Each year, it gets to be more and more," Williams said.

This mother of three not only decorated her home with a scarecrow and orange lights, but a Halloween windsock and spooky cutouts for her windows. "I've lived in north Tampa for three years. When I lived in south Tampa, I didn't notice much going on there compared to here."

A haunting in Westchase

It was the memory of Halloween adventures executed by his parents that got Harwood, a programmer analyst for Catalina Marketing, to push his Halloween hoopla into overdrive this year.

Harwood estimates he spent between $300 and $400 on the haunted house he will construct today in his driveway.

The spooky space will be 10 feet high, 7 feet wide and about 30 feet long, the length of his driveway. The structure will incorporate a cardboard shark cage decorated with fake blood, a plastic skeleton, ghosts and lots of spider webs.

Harwood's attempt at Halloween decorating last year prompted him to go all out this time.

"The best compliment I got was a little kid coming up to me, pulling on my pants leg and saying, "You're the coolest!' ," he said.

"This is going to be my first Halloween tradition, and I'm hoping I can get other people to get on this. I want to see the whole block do something," Harwood said.

Indeed, retailers in recent weeks have stocked enough Halloween paraphernalia in the stores to decorate every house in Westchase, and beyond.

But shoppers on Halloween are more likely to be hunting down those last-minute costumes, makeup and accessories.

Today marks the ninth Halloween for Michael Matteo's store, M & P Costumes in the Mission Bell shopping center. Unlike years past when Batman and the Power Rangers ruled, Matteo is calling Halloween 1997 the year of the "generic" costume.

"Boys want the scary stuff, and girls want the pretty stuff," he said. "Last year when Hunchback came out we did well. When Lion King came out we slammed. Hercules? Not much interest."

Men in Black, Women in Lace

Disney is still doing well in the costume business, even though its movie and video sales don't always meet the entertainment behemoth's projections.

Little boys are still dressing up as Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, and little girls are still going as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. Lots of parents called The Big Party in University Mall in search of an Ariel costume from The Little Mermaid.

But at a recent children's Halloween party at the Carrollwood Waldenbooks & More Books store, no single costume trend was apparent.

There were devils, a fairy princess, a few characters from the Goosebumps books, and one 8-year-old who wore his soccer uniform and a curly blonde wig so he could be Carlos Valderrama of the Tampa Mutiny.

Adam and Evan King, 7 and 5, came dressed as characters from the movie Men In Black; with little suits from a consignment store, wrap-around sunglasses from a dollar store and a cardboard laser and neckties constructed by their mother, Beth King.

The Men in Black ensemble (best if you have a buddy) has been a popular do-it-yourself costume, and M&M's costumes have stolen the show in retail stores. The candy costumes are inspired by the animated M&Ms in the television commercial, and sizes range from infant to adult.

On the flip side, a store-bought costume that has seen little movement is the Tamagotchi virtual pet. "The kids want the game not the costume," said David Johnson, an assistant manager for Target in Northdale.

Get-ups inspired by the horror movie Scream, consisting of a stretched-out ghoul masks with a black hood and cape, have been popular among the older set. "My whole allotment sold in the first week I got it," said Kristine Drew, co-owner of Party City in Carrollwood.

Grown-up women also went for the newly licensed and slightly risque I Dream of Jeannie ensemble. The Jeannie look joins the French maid, harem girl and other sexy women's costumes that are popular every year.

Getting "a kick" out of horses

Ten-year-old Danielle Edelmann of Carrollwood will also dress as a genie today, but her interpretation is more on the wholesome side. In fact, her mother, Jackie Edelmann, calls her daughter's outfit a Sahara princess.

Once Danielle is decked out in her genie/princess costume, her mom will drive her out to the barn so she can dress up Reo. Reo, Danielle's palomino Quarter horse, is one of two things: Pegasus or a horsefly.

A costume contest is planned today at Reo's stable, In the Breeze near Citrus Park. Reo will don a flashy tiara, a feather boa, a necklace and a small pair of fairy wings.

At London Farms, a Town 'N Country stable, owner and manager Kim Fuller will lead a group of riders on a trick-or-treat mission through Twelve Oaks. They will include 11-year-old Ashley Burriss of Town 'N Country, dressed as an American Indian with a blanket on her horse and beads on his bridle.

"It's more fun than normal trick-or-treating because I like horses much better than anything else," Ashley said.

Fuller and other adult chaperones will set out with the children and their horses an hour before dark. The plan is for those on foot to retrieve the door-to-door candy (and for the horses, apples and carrots) while the riders keep the horses off the lawns and porches.

"People get a kick out of seeing the horses and kids dressed up," Fuller said. "We go back and pick up the poop, don't worry."

For those who don't have horses, or even costumes, there is still a way to express a little holiday spirit. Many area pumpkin lots will be open for business this afternoon and evening. Brennan, who manages the Great Pumpkin Patch at Erlich and Dale Mabry, said business on Halloween slows at dusk, but there is a dinnertime surge as folks show up for a second pumpkin.

That comes, in part, from people who carve their gourds too early, Brennan said. "If you get a week out of your pumpkin you've done well in Florida."

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