I shopped at Spirit Halloween and Party City for costumes and spooky decorations, and I would return to the more expensive store

Exterior of Party City and Spirit Halloween; masks hanging up in a store
Party City and Spirit Halloween. Frank Olito/Insider
  • I looked for Halloween costumes and decor at Party City and Spirit Halloween to see how they compared.
  • The Spirit Halloween I visited had a huge selection, a fun atmosphere, and an expertly designed store.
  • Although Party City was cheaper, it had a smaller selection and a strange store design.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

With Halloween around the corner, I knew it was time to start thinking about my costume and decorations, so I decided to explore Party City and Spirit Halloween.
Halloween decorations costumes store
Halloween shopping. FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images
Although I’m not ready to settle on a Halloween costume just yet, I decided to window shop and explore the two Halloween stores near my apartment in Brooklyn, New York.

The first store was Party City, which has over 850 locations across the US and specializes in party decorations. Each fall, the company transforms the majority of its stores into a Halloween destination, filled with hundreds of costume options. 

The second is Spirit Halloween. Its more than 1,000 stores across the US are only open in the fall to sell costumes, decorations, and props, although it does operate year-round online.

Strangely enough, the competitors are located next to each other in Brooklyn, New York.
The exterior of Spirit Halloween and Party City in Brooklyn.
Spirit Halloween and Party City right next to each other. Frank Olito/Insider
I was surprised to find that the stores operate right next to each other, but I realized it would make it easy to compare the two back to back. 
I went into Spirit Halloween first and was immediately greeted by a full-scale decoration display.
Two large statues and an entryway into spirit Halloween
The horror display. Frank Olito/Insider
As I walked by the display, a giant, fake spider popped out and scared me. At that moment, I knew this wasn’t going to be a normal shopping experience; it felt more like a haunted house than a retail store.
I was impressed with the massive size of the store.
The inside of a large spirit halloween store filled with decor and costumes
The entire Spirit Halloween store. Frank Olito/Insider
Since Spirit Halloween is a seasonal retail business, they don’t have set locations. The stores just take over any empty and available space. That means the stores are usually bare-bones with harsh lighting, exposed beams, and concrete floors. 
Behind the giant display in the center of the store, there was a large section for Halloween decorations.
Skeleton and fake spider decorations at spirit halloween
The decoration section. Frank Olito/Insider
The store sold skeletons of various sizes, fuzzy spiders, plastic chains, and creepy doormats. These decorations ranged in price from $US50 ($AU69) to $US200 ($AU276) depending on size and quality. 
I then headed straight to the section labeled adult costumes.
The 'adult' section filled with costumes at a spirit halloween
The ‘adult’ section. Frank Olito/Insider
This section had many of the classic costumes, like vampires, nurses, witches, doctors, and skeletons. There were more creative ones like something called an “Ancient Reaper” or “Sergeant Short Pants.”

The various costumes served as inspiration for what I could be this year on Halloween.

I especially liked how there were multiple options for one costume.
Three nurse costumes in bags hanging in a store
There were three types of nurse costumes. Frank Olito/Insider
For a nurse, there wasn’t just one costume to choose from. Instead, there were three at different price points, ranging from $US30 ($AU41) and $US50 ($AU69). 

I also liked how the costumes were hanging in their bags, so they were easy to grab and go. I didn’t have to talk to anyone to see if a costume was available.

The store also had separate sections for children.
The 'Infants and Toddlers' section filled with costumes at Spirit Halloween
The ‘Infants and Toddlers’ section. Frank Olito/Insider
The “Infants and Toddlers” section had cute costumes ranging from $US30 ($AU41) to $US50 ($AU69).
Spirit Halloween also clearly highlights certain sections with themes.
The 'Ancient Empires' section in a spirit halloween store
The ‘Ancient Empires’ section. Frank Olito/Insider
There was a section called “Ancient Empires,” which had gladiator-like costumes. There were other sections like the ’70s and characters from the “Harley Quinn” series. 
I then headed over to the large wig and mask corner.
The masks hanging in a Spirit Halloween store
The masks. Frank Olito/Insider
The wigs and masks cost between $US12 ($AU17) and $US40 ($AU55) depending on the quality. Spirit Halloween had separate sections for prosthetics, makeup, and accessories.
After leaving Spirit Halloween, I walked just a few steps and headed into the very different world of Party City.
The exterior of Party City
Party City. Frank Olito/Insider
When I walked in, I immediately noticed how different the vibe was compared to Spirit Halloween. Instead of feeling like I stepped inside a haunted house, Party City felt like a very normal retail store with fluorescent lights. 
There were decorations hanging from the ceiling and on shelves at the front of the store.
The Halloween decorations hanging from the ceiling at Party City
The Halloween decorations. Frank Olito/Insider
These prices ranged from $US5 ($AU7) and $US60 ($AU83) — slightly cheaper than Spirit Halloween.
I was surprised to find that the Halloween section was only contained to three aisles.
The three aisles considered the Halloween section at Party City.
The Halloween section at Party City. Frank Olito/Insider
Coming from the much larger Spirit Halloween next door, it was jarring to see the Halloween section was so small — however, Party City sells items for parties of all types, so the rest of the store had products for non-spooky celebrations.
At the back of the store, there was a large display that showcased all the available costumes.
A wall of pictures of every halloween costume at Party City
The wall of costumes at Party City. Frank Olito/Insider
In this Party City, they don’t hang up their costumes in bags for shoppers to grab. Instead, you have to peruse this display, find the costume you want, and then ask an employee to get it for you from the back.

When I took a closer look at the wall, I noticed that the prices ranged from $US24 ($AU33) to $US49 ($AU68), which is a bit cheaper than Spirit Halloween. But there seemed to be one option per costume, which was a disappointment. 

This system meant I had to ask someone to go into the back and get the costume for me.
A wall of pictures of costumes at party city
The wall of costumes. Frank Olito/Insider
Since it’s only September, Party City was empty, so it would have been easy to ask an employee for help. But I’ve been to a Party City in mid to late October and it’s mayhem. Trying to get a good look at the wall of pictures when there’s a large crowd is hard, and attempting to get the attention of a busy, overworked employee is even more difficult.

In my opinion, the system simply doesn’t work when it gets busy.

Next to the display wall, there was a section of costume accessories separated by color.
The color coded section filled with hats and wigs at Party City
The color-coded section. Frank Olito/Insider
There were cheap hats, necklaces, and wigs starting at $US5 ($AU7), but I couldn’t figure out why people would just want to go as a color for Halloween. 

I thought this section lacked the creativity that I saw in Spirit Halloween.

However, while walking down the aisles, I noticed more costume accessories were separated by theme just like in Spirit Halloween.
Themed aisle filled with western costumes at party city
The themed aisles. Frank Olito/Insider
Party City had themes like “Historic,” “Day of the Dead,” and “Western,” but the selections weren’t nearly as robust as the one I saw next door.
Party City also had a large mask section.
Various masks hanging in a party city store
The mask section. Frank Olito/Insider
The masks ranged from $US8 ($AU11) to $US60 ($AU83).
The wig section, however, lacked when compared to Spirit Halloween.
A few wigs hanging from shelving in party city
The wig section. Frank Olito/Insider
There weren’t many wig options, but of the ones available, they cost between $US15 ($AU21) and $US25 ($AU35).

Party City, however, has a big makeup section where items cost less than $US15 ($AU21).

After spending some time in both stores, it’s clear I will be returning to Spirit Halloween when I finally decide on this year’s costume.
The exterior of Spirit Halloween with Party City next door
Spirit Halloween is the better option. Frank Olito/Insider
My trip to both Party City and Spirit Halloween revealed two vastly different stores. 

While Party City generally has cheaper products, the selection was smaller, likely because the store also sells items for celebrations other than Halloween. Spirit Halloween, on the other hand, has a huge variety of costumes and decor in an entertaining environment. 

Although I didn’t settle on what costume I want to wear this season just yet, I know I’ll be returning to Spirit Halloween to buy everything I need when I do.