Organizers are expanding the freaky fun of Halloween on Church St this year in the hopes of attracting tourists to Toronto and its gaybourhood.
“Pride Day went to Pride Week, why can’t Halloween go to Halloweek?” asks Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA) member Larry Peloso.
The idea for this year’s inaugural Halloweek, running from Fri, Oct 26 to Oct 31, took shape when Peloso opened his former bar Lüb on Halloween weekend in 2003.
“I just saw that everyone loved it,” he says. “[The holiday] started off for kids but adults, and especially gay people, love Halloween.”
Despite the fact that the holiday is big business — Halloween spending is expected to total $5.07 billion this year in the US alone — Peloso says there’s a gap in the market when it comes to gay tourism.
“More and more tourists come to see what’s going on and all that’s really going on are the costumes,” he says of Church St’s past Halloween efforts. “This is a huge, huge celebration and nobody owns it so why shouldn’t Toronto own it?”
Peloso saw the possibility of expanding the past Halloween festivities — traditionally a street closure and whatever parties Church St bars put on — which led him to present his proposal for a weeklong celebration to local city councillor Kyle Rae and CWVBIA. Rae then pointed Peloso toward Tourism Toronto, which is contributing $50,000 of the $75,000 budget to this year’s celebrations. The other $25,000 is coming from the CWVBIA.
Toronto Tourism has pledged money toward the next two Halloweeks as well although Peloso says the amount is expected to decrease each year. Peloso says the CWVBIA plans to search out increased funding in the form of sponsorships for next year.
Andrew Weir, vice president of communications for Tourism Toronto, says Tourism Toronto is excited to be a part of Halloweek. “We absolutely saw an opportunity for Toronto to have the best Halloween festival on the continent,” he says.
According to Weir Tourism Toronto has increased its efforts overall to market to gay travellers thanks to research that shows they’re inclined to stay longer than other tourists and do more while they’re here.
“There’s a cachet associated with things that are hot in the gay community,” says Weir. “That has tremendous benefit overall.”
Both he and Peloso say they hope Halloweek will become a large draw for visitors to Toronto. Peloso says he already has friends who come to Canada from the US just for Halloween and envisions tourists coming to Toronto “because that’s where Halloween happens.”
The timing of the holiday allows the new festival to take advantage of what Peloso calls a “shoulder time” for tourism when few other big events are happening.
Tourism Toronto has put a marketing push behind Halloweek throughout the US with ads online and in bars and restaurants. They also sent a team to promote it at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association’s conference in San Diego last month.
Peloso hopes to see a positive impact on Halloweek with Halloween conveniently falling on a Friday and Saturday in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
“We’re really looking at this year as a dress rehearsal for the next two years,” says Peloso. “It’s just a drop in the bucket of what this festival could be.”
“We think it’s going to be a fixture in the fall season for a long time,” says Weir.
Event marketing company Solutions with Impact has been hired by CWVBIA to coordinate the festival, led by Halloweek creative director Erastus Burley. Events will include a pumpkin carving contest led by outdoor recreation club Out and Out on Sun, Oct 28 from noon until 5pm on various patios along Church St, a pumpkin culinary festival at participating restaurants and a children’s program. On Halloween itself Church St will be closed to cars from Alexander to Wellesley from 6pm until 11pm for the Boo Block Party.