There is a sidewalk-lined stretch of street in Oakland’s hilly Upper Rockridge neighborhood that transforms, every Halloween night, into a mob scene. As darkness falls, the usually quiet residential block becomes a trick-or-treating thoroughfare so packed with revelers that residents—who may dole out as much as 25 pounds of candy—pull city permits to bar car traffic and safeguard pedestrians for the night.
That won’t be necessary this year. Whether state, county, or East Bay city representatives officially ban trick-or-treating or just strongly discourage it, Halloween 2020—like all celebrations in the age of COVID-19—is going to be different.
“There is so much unknown, and folks here are feeling cautious,” says Ranjeet Rajan, a healthcare administrator who lives on the Halloween-fest block with his wife and two school-age kids. “We’ll sit this one out. It’s sad, but no passing out candies or participating in trick-or-treating for us this year.”
For the last 18 years, Rajan’s neighbor (who asked to remain anonymous) has devised increasingly elaborate Halloween displays featuring lunging animatronic skeletons that spill from his garage and creep up the exterior of his home. His “decorations” take a month to assemble, and are credited—or blamed—with sparking the block’s hot Halloween reputation.
This year, the Halloween artisan’s wife, Wendy, is lobbying for no decor. “Halloween is such an important day in our family,” says the mother of three teens. “But we don't want to be the cause of anything that’s not safe for the public. We would hate for Halloween to become a superspreader event.”
Business districts are reaching the same conclusion. Oakland’s Piedmont Avenue Halloween Parade, which would have celebrated its 34th outing this year, is canceled, as are related events such as the Mountain View Cemetery’s Pumpkin Festival.
“It just didn’t feel safe to have the parade this year,” says Piedmont Avenue Merchants Association leader Philippa Roberts Porter, whose jewel-box Phillipa Roberts store has been an avenue fixture for 14 years. “We love it—it has such happy energy. But the sidewalks get jam-packed. We knew people would understand the importance of not gathering in large groups.”
Other local business districts are still weighing options, but none anticipate hosting Halloween as usual.
Organizers for Berkeley’s Fourth Street are canceling their festival, but hope families will take photos of costumed kids along the strip, which they can share via email to receive a gift by mail in return. (Details will be posted at http://www.fourthstreet.com/events)
Albany’s Solano Avenue Association executive director Allen Cain is also pondering electronic options, but sees some downside. “I think our costume contest might be doable virtually,” he says. “But I also know that a good portion of our community is totally done with anything that requires you to log into a computer.”
Mindful of our craving for in-person connection, the Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District (BID) is considering closing several blocks of Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue for a few hours on Halloween “to allow for socially distanced celebration,” says executive director Shifra de Benedictis-Kessner. “But only if we feel certain that families and merchants and staff will be comfortable with our safety measures.” The BID will make a decision next week; check temescaldistrict.org for updates.
With traditions falling by the wayside, families and businesses are forging adaptations to keep the Halloween spirit alive.
In North Berkeley, Alex Katzenstein and her neighbors are coordinating a no-trick-or-treating mini parade, with costumed kids spaced a cautious ten feet apart and friends alerted via email to cheer from their porches. “My kids [ages 3 and 5] don’t even care about candy,” she says. “They just care about dressing up and everyone saying, ‘You look great!’ ”
In Oakland, starting Sept. 25, Speer Family Farms Pumpkin Patch will welcome families to the lot across from Uptown’s Fox Theater. Along with pumpkin painting, a pumpkin shooter, a hay pyramid, and specialty pumpkins for sale, guests will encounter temperature checks, hand sanitizer and handwashing stations, and timeslot reservations for busy days.
Oakland’s “Boo at the Zoo” is minimizing person-to-person interactions by replacing trick-or-treating with pre-filled goodie bags, and stretching the previously two-day event across eight days to prevent crowding.
In Pleasanton, the Pirates of Emerson Theme Park at the Alameda County Fairgrounds will open Oct. 2 transformed into a 10-acre drive-through experience. Only enclosed vehicles are permitted and windows must remain shut, ensuring that visitors traverse the terror in their own safety bubble.
The Fairgrounds are also hosting drive-in movies throughout October, with a convoy of food trucks furnishing dinners. Drive-in movies will also be available at Concord’s recently reopened West Wind Solano Drive-In, and at Alameda Theatre & Cineplex’s pop-up drive-in at Brix Beverage on Alameda Point starting Sept. 25.
Albany’s Allen Cain hopes people will maintain perspective—and safety—as they seek ways to celebrate this Halloween. “We all really want normality,” he says. “And it is sad: Our usual Halloween is another victim of the virus. But there are people dying or very sick with COVID right now, and we need to do everything we can to prevent further spread of the disease.”