Boo! 6 stories of retail hauntings – Retail Dive


Many retailers look to Halloween — a time for parties and an occasion to buy things — as a harbinger of the bigger holiday to come. This year, many consumers remain wary of gathering, with 33% saying they’ll get together with family and friends at Halloween, down from the more typical 43%, according to research from Numerator. But it’s not all frightening: More do plan to trick or treat this year than last, more are decorating for the spine-tingling time, and spending is up, those researchers also found.

Some retailers, and their customers, contend with spooks, spirits and creepy spiders all year round, however. While, at the moment, just how important brick and mortar may be to a retailer’s operations is the subject of some debate, Retail Dive has uncovered evidence that all sorts of ghosts are drawn to physical locations, if only to lurk in the shadows.

Not all of the following details could be immediately confirmed for this story, which is best read, as it was written, by candlelight or glowing pumpkin, when the moon is full.

Was New York’s Astor Place Kmart haunted? Aren’t they all?

When Kmart abruptly shuttered its last location in Manhattan this summer, more than one New Yorker worried about where the putative ghosts or zombies would go. At least one reporter at New York Magazine’s Grub Street simply referred to that store as “the haunted Astor Place Kmart.”

How typical of New Yorkers to think that only their Kmart welcomed beings from the beyond. Documenting the creepiness of many possibly haunted former Kmart spaces is something of a hobby for some (living) people. And a few Kmarts seem to host a phantom or three. In at least a couple of places in Southern California, for example, it’s the old Kmart stockrooms that perhaps should be renamed “stalk-rooms” due to their nightly visitors; in one, thankfully, the apparition apparently pitches in and gets some work done. In Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, in 2013, a woman reported a Kmart cash register that was possessed by a poltergeist; four years later, the store closed.

There’s an upside to this nightmare. The “screampark” purveyors at Frightworld, which stages its over-the-top take on a haunted house in Buffalo, New York, know a good thing when they see it — Frightworld is being held at the former Kmart in North Buffalo.

Sunnyvale Toys R Us (soon to be an REI)

In the 1880s, in Sunnyvale, California, a traveling preacher from Sweden falls for a rich merchant’s daughter, who spurns him. Shortly later, the sad lovesick man, who worked on the merchant’s orchard, gashes himself with an ax and bleeds to death, alone.

A century later, the dead preacher’s spirit is haunting a corporate toy store built over the orchard, scaring the employees and chatting with a psychic. So goes the story of the haunted Toys R Us in Sunnyvale.

The store became the site of one of the country’s most famous hauntings, and also became a ghost in its own right after the toy retailer liquidated in bankruptcy in 2018.

Employees at the store complained of creepy feelings, toys flying off shelves and possessed plumbing. The San Francisco news site SFGate noted that employee reports of strange events happened “[a]lmost immediately” after the store opened in 1970.

It drew the interest of paranormal investigators, and late in the decade, psychic famous Sylvia Browne held seances there. One of them occurred on the television show “That’s Incredible.”

In it, Browne and a camera crew visit the store at night and seek out the spirit.

“OK, alright, I really feel him now,” says the psychic at one point. “I think he’s in the back. Now he’s coming along very, very quickly. … Johnny, or Yonny, come this way a bit.” Browne saw the haunting as a story of unrequited love, with Johnny unaware of his own death and searching eternally for his long-lost love.

The fact-checking site Snopes gave the Haunted Toys R Us story a “Legend” rating, meaning it was too general to prove. The Sunnyvale Toys R Us store director told Snopes at the time that teenagers would beg to be allowed to stay the night in the store, and that some employees refused to go into the women’s bathroom alone.

Snopes also raised the question, “Is it all just a desperate sales gimmick?” but didn’t ultimately answer it.

When SFGate looked into the historical record this year, they could not verify hardly any of the details of the original story. The merchant’s daughter didn’t run away with an East Coast lawyer but married a rich San Franciscan in California. No record exists of a Swede working in Sunnyvale at the time. And there were no newspaper accounts of a death-by-ax in the area then. Also, the merchant’s daughter was dead by the time this was all supposed to take place.

The store would go on to close while Toys R Us was in bankruptcy. It became the site of more ghoulish imagery than ever when a Spirit Halloween moved into the empty space

This year, outdoor specialist REI moved into the store space as its new permanent tenant. The new REI’s doors haven’t opened yet. But then again, closed doors have generally posed no obstacle for ghosts. If REI store workers encounter flying kayaks and upturned mountain bikes, Johnny could still be roaming the space.

Gap’s San Francisco flagship: This store is like a ghost town

These days San Francisco is mostly possessed by those hooded creatures known as tech bros, but there are enough haunted locations around town to support a thriving ghost tour business.

One that appears to be cursed a few times over is the landmark Flood building, home to Gap’s hometown flagship until last year. Its steel frame and blue-gray Colusa sandstone-covered brick are so strong that it was one of the few buildings to withstand the city’s devastating earthquake in 1906. To the point where, legend has it, ghosts from three eras are trapped inside — some victims of a 19th century fire years before (when The Baldwin Hotel was that spot), some casualties of the Great Earthquake itself, and a few ne’er do wells still loitering outside the Pinkerton Detective Agency, (whose office was in the Flood in the 1920s), in hopes of meeting Dashiell Hammett.

In reality, Gap’s problems at that store were with the living, not the dead. At least one member of the city’s board of supervisors believes the closure was due to escalating retail thefts in the area. But the overriding issue was probably a deficit of real, live store visitors. At the time, Gap itself said it was leaving the striking location as part of a larger plan to close underperforming stores in order to strengthen the brand’s overall health.

The ‘darker history’ of Seattle’s Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market in Seattle is full of delightful small businesses and farmer’s market stalls, featuring everything from puzzles, records and books to leather stores, hat shops and one place simply called “Orange Dracula.” It’s also massively haunted. So haunted that the Pike Place Market itself offers a ghost tour of its arcades and alleys that shares the “often overlooked darker history of Seattle.”

Locals who work at the market report seeing ghostly figures or objects unexpectedly crashing to the ground. Some hauntings may be one-offs, but others show up so frequently that they have names, like Suspender Man, Jacob and Frank. According to the Seattle Met, the ghost of Frank Goodwin, one of the original founders of the market, regularly haunts the area, introducing himself to shoppers and asking if they need help with directions.