by Elaine Marranzano –
Halloween in Sleepy Hollow country is getting bigger every year. There are now more activities and more tourists than ever before. So, where does all that money go? Who benefits economically from Halloween?
The undisputed winner is Historic Hudson Valley. The nonprofit’s tax returns show soaring “program service revenues” of $4.86 million in 2015, compared to $2.98 million in 2012. The income is partly generated by the increasing number of Halloween activities at Philipsburg Manor and Van Cortlandt Manor.
“Our Halloween programming has grown as demand for it has grown,” said Rob Schweitzer, Vice President of Communications and Commerce for Historic Hudson Valley.
The Great Jack O Lantern Blaze at Van Cortlandt Manor, for example, ran for 40 nights this year, compared to just four nights during its first season.
The Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Historic Fund is the second big winner. The Fund, whose goal is to preserve and maintain the historic site, now offers guided walking tours almost every day in October at $20 for a two-hour tour. The Fund, which earned $92,000 in program service revenue in 2012, reported almost $222,000 in 2016.
The money is reinvested in the restoration of monuments and landscaping, according to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Superintendent Jim Logan.
The Halloween season not only helps sustain the area’s nonprofits, but also businesses, said Anthony Giaccio, Sleepy Hollow village administrator.
“It keeps those places in business, so we don’t have vacant buildings and their property taxes remain to support our tax base,” said Giaccio.
Nick Bell, proprietor of JP Doyle’s Restaurant and Public House on Beekman Avenue, said his October revenue has more than doubled from five years ago.
“Everyone in the restaurant business is seeing a bump in business related to Halloween tourism,” said Bell. “Everybody wins.”
Stores as diverse as CVS and the jewelry store ShayLula on Main Street benefit from the Halloween bump as well.
“It is the most fabulous thing,” said Colleen Goudie, ShayLula’s owner. “Halloween is like Christmas in October and it is all from the tourists.”
The villages do not benefit directly from increased sales tax. The tax is collected by Westchester County and redistributed annually based on population. Last year, Sleepy Hollow received $1.6 million in sales tax from the county.
“Tourism is important to the village in many ways, but sales tax isn’t one of them,” said Giaccio.
The two major Halloween events sponsored by the villages are, in fact, money losers. Sleepy Hollow’s Haunted Hayride costs the village between $10,000 and $15,000 each year to execute, mainly in police and public works employee overtime. The Tarrytown Halloween parade is also not profitable, but then it is not intended to be.
“The purpose of the parade is to bring people to the village to share in good will and to shop at stores or dine at restaurants,” said Richard Slingerland, Tarrytown Village Administrator.
And it works. Angel Rafter, owner of A Nu Toy Store on Main Street, kept her shop open for the first time during this year’s parade.
“I would say there were easily double the number of people from out-of-town this year looking for something to do.” she said. “I finally had to announce at nine o’clock that they had to leave because I was tired and wanted to go home.”
The rise in tourism is partly due to the promotion of greater Sleepy Hollow as a destination by Historic Hudson Valley and the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.
“We function as a mini-tourism bureau,” said Schweitzer. “We are extending the brand that Washington Irving created 200 years ago with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”
Hotels promoted by Historic Hudson Valley are often fully-booked on October weekends and are able to charge higher rates due to increasing demand.
“The most surprising thing for tourists is that there is not a hotel in Sleepy Hollow,” said Tina Zagrobelny, executive director of the Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown Chamber of Commerce. “One couple flew in from California with no hotel reservations and no tickets to anything. I felt so bad for them.”
Despite all the activities, merchants say more needs to be done to capitalize on Halloween.
“With the branding of the village, we are doing something right, but we need to do more.” said Bell. “There is still nothing for the tourists to do during the day.”