Dollar Halloween is a new book of photographs by Wyatt Doyle, focusing on the glut of cheaply manufactured Halloween decorations, toys, and knick-knacks created for and sold in American dollar stores. Preview the limited edition hardcover in its entirety via the Issuu embed above.
Doyle's introductory essay to the book follows:
Los Angeles is a dollar store town. With significant blocs of its population composed of recent immigrants, low-income laborers, and entertainment-industry cannon fodder—all working for peanuts—dollar stores help ensure the continued survival of the working poor by offering grocery essentials at a buck apiece. If you’ve got a dollar, you’ve got a dinner…or something, anyway, until a dinner comes along.
The ubiquity of the 99 Cents Only chain makes the brand the Starbucks of their weight class (at least in Los Angeles), and their high-ceilinged, well-lit interiors provide familiar and reassuring echoes of their more expensive cousins (unlike most smaller, ethnic, or independently owned discount shops).
When a medium-sized 99 Cents Only in my old neighborhood outgrew its location, the company opened a much larger store, barely a block south—only to retain the original location as well. Even with the roaring success of the new superstore, there was no discernable drop in business at the old location, just a few yards away. Both stores continue to thrive.
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Halloween decorations are curious items to begin with. The trappings of the holiday are so deeply ingrained, so traditional, they’ve all but lost their meaning. A date or the time of year is enough to move us to festoon our homes with make-believe rotting corpse parts and an ever-growing variety of sparkly death totems.
And where there’s a need, or even a mild desire, a dollar store stands ready to fill it, for whatever you’ve got in your pocket. Come autumn, their aisles swell with an onslaught of flimsy window decorations and off-brand Halloween tchotchkes. Most made in China, few sturdy enough to survive a single use.
Plastic jack-o’-lanterns and fastener-hinged cardboard skeletons are familiar, but the uncontrollable compulsion to foist more and more stuff on each other leads to the introduction of dozens of ultimately disposable decorating ideas to the seasonal shelves each year. And if Walgreens wants to sell you their version for $9.95, you’d better believe there’s a factory in China crapping out something like it that’ll wholesale for pennies and still turn a profit.
The haste, disinterest, and cynicism in the products’ manufacture are often reflected in the product. At times the low production standards and cheap molds add a layer of unintentional deformed menace to an expression, or lend an accidental resemblance to some obscure movie monster; other items, the process renders unrecognizable. Thin, plaster skulls crusted with cheap sequins, possibly topped by a bat- or spider-shaped glob…plastic severed limbs, heads, and masks, their spray-on painted details applied out of register…armies of gaudy Grim Reaper figurines, familiar year-round from the windows of the city’s many Santeria botanicas…and occasional malformed, misshapen rejects that appear to have collided with another product somewhere down the assembly line. Most of it dusted with glitter, all of it junk. When you handle one, it leaves paint on your fingers. Throw it away, and bits are left behind.
copyright © 2015 Wyatt Doyle
Purchase Dollar Halloween in limited edition hardcover here.