Mike Foy and family champion Halloween in Fairborn
Photo: Land of a thousand masks: Foy’s offers the largest selection of masks in Ohio; photo: Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin
You know the feeling. It pricks all the senses. Perhaps your taste buds take the brunt of the autumn attack, overcome by the omnipresent pumpkin-flavored ales/soups/scones/lattes/gum/what have you. Maybe first it’s your nose, catching the scent of burning leaves that makes you swivel your head in a fruitless effort to find the source. It might be your eyes, opening up a little wider to match the detonation of color in the trees or perchance catching a glimpse coming around a corner of … a pirate ship? On a neighborhood lawn? Manned by … zombies? Nothing says “fall has arrived, Halloween is coming” quite like the annual adornment of the streets of Fairborn, decked in spooky splendor from Main to Maple by Mike Foy of Foy’s Variety Stores.
Mike Foy is a third-generation Fairborn storeowner who just can’t seem to get enough of Halloween and all its gory glory.
“Halloween is coming so I’m getting excited, myself,” he said.
Somewhere between setting up a full-scale pirate display and decorating his six storefronts with heavy-duty shows of frightening freaks, he finds the time to festoon his grandparents’ former home, support the Halloween Festival committee, run his Haunted Museum and host a 5K Fright Run. The man doesn’t stop.
“My dad taught me a long time ago, if you’re in business, support the community,” said Foy.
He’s certainly doing his part. In fact, Foy’s whole family is doing its, and has been for nearly 85 years. His grandfather, Albert, opened Foy’s as a five and ten in 1929 at the location that is now their Rock n’ Roll Grill. Mike’s father, Norman, took over in 1940. It was in the ’70s, as Mike was becoming more involved, that the store made the shift to a focus on Halloween.
“The change was because I was more interested in the theatrical part of things,” said Foy.
And so he began acquiring masks and costumes and props, attending shows and conventions to obtain the latest and the greatest, evolving his inventory to match the growing demand for supplies.
“I go to three Halloween conventions a year,” Foy said. “I get excited to see these products. They’re developing products right now for two years out.”
During his tenure, Foy has seen an evolution in the products available.
“There are so many things that have changed and gotten better through the years,” he said. “There are more expensive things to decorate with. People want their yard to look better than anybody else’s. They want their garage to be a haunted house. It’s amazing to me.”
Foy has been witness to the progression of Halloween traditions, too.
“Halloween has changed,” he said. “At one time, older people didn’t know what to think about Halloween. Now I think the kids who grew up with this new Halloween have turned into older people that know what Halloween’s about. It’s a fun holiday. It’s not a bunch of pagans. It’s fun. And it’s changed in the whole United States. It used to be, when my dad was little, you soaped windows and turned over outhouses. Things have really changed. Halloween is getting bigger in Fairborn. We’re known for Halloween just in Fairborn. We have a Halloween parade. It’s the 54th anniversary of our Halloween parade in Fairborn. Thousands of kids are in it. We have a Halloween festival in downtown Fairborn that the Chamber of Commerce puts on. And Halloween is growing in Fairborn still.”
And not just for the owner of the Halloween store. Other Fairborn businesses benefit from the draw that Foy’s has.
“We see a lot of business, especially on nights and weekends,” said Cheryl Abbitt of Tickets Pub and Eatery on Main Street in regards to the inundation downtown Fairborn sees in October. “It’s grown. People go all out.”
“Foy’s really has a national draw,” said Tonya Campbell of the Fairborn Area Chamber of Commerce on the Foy’s phenomenon. “People call from out of state for information about the Foy’s stores, as far away as Texas. It’s a destination. Some people come for tradition. They went to Foy’s as kids, and they want to bring their kids. It’s just huge. There’s not a place to park on Fridays and Saturdays in October!”
This is not a passing fancy. After decades of building the family business and generations of passing down tradition, Foy is here to stay.
“Main Street in Fairborn has been Main Street my whole life,” he said. “I love downtown, and I’ll stay downtown. … I like things to stay the same.”
But Foy understands that surviving in the world of commerce means adapting.
“I don’t like much change, but I’ll take a little bit,” he said. “When we started this business, there were four costume stores in Dayton. There was one in Huber Heights, Beavercreek, they were everywhere. Well, slowly the small ones that didn’t change and didn’t grow, went out of business. … I don’t want to let that happen to me. So you have to change some. You have to improve.”
One such improvement is Foy’s selection of masks, which has grown to be the largest in Ohio. There are more than a thousand on display in the Variety Store, many seemingly giving you the stink eye as you wander past.
“I’m kind of proud of our mask selection,” Foy said, smiling from between a deranged clown and Richard Nixon. “Mardi Gras masks are just getting more, bigger and bigger. We sell thousands of Mardi Gras masks. It’s amazing how things have changed. Mardi Gras is coming up from the South, and people, every day, somebody’s in buying masks. A lot of people have said to me, ‘How can a costume store make it year-round?’ It does.”
This is part of what separates Foy’s from the Halloween box stores that pop up this time of year. Foy’s wouldn’t make it if they didn’t have the selection, knowledge and customer service that far surpasses their corporate counterparts.
“I have a pretty good knowledge of masks,” Foy said. “Most of what I call ‘seasonal stores’ that only come in for one month out of the year just don’t have that.”
But that’s not to say that he doesn’t think seasonal stores have their place. Just the opposite, in fact.
“These seasonal stores are important because there are communities that would never see Halloween stores otherwise,” Foy said. “They have a purpose, and in my mind what the purpose is, is bringing Halloween all across the United States. If we only had small stores or costume stores in there year ‘round, it wouldn’t give everybody a chance to dress up. The seasonal stores are everywhere. They’re in every community.”
He acknowledged that Foy’s is not necessarily for everyone.
“Not everybody is so into it that they come here, but I think most people, if they’re into Halloween, they come here,” Foy said. “But if you just want a little item and you don’t want to come here and enjoy the whole Halloween experience, maybe you’ll go in [the seasonal store] just to get something. But I believe if you’re really into Halloween, you’ll come here because we have the selection, we have the knowledge.”
And Mike does strive to maintain a symbiotic relationship with what some would call his competitors.
“When you go into a place that’s only there five weeks and they’re going to be doing something else in five weeks … I don’t think they have the knowledge,” Foy said. “But we do send people there, and they send people to us … If I don’t have something, I’ll send them there. If they don’t have something, they usually send them to us. I want a relationship with them.”
Foy realizes that his station in life is unique and does not take the delight he finds in his occupation for granted
“I love what I’m doing, and I have fun at work,” he said. “To like what you do, that’s good. I can’t wait to get here in the morning!”
The joy in the Foy family seems to be hereditary, because Mike Foy, Jr. possesses the same zeal for the business as his father, and his grandfather before him, and his great-grandfather before him.
“He’ll want to do what his great-grandfather did,” Mike said of his son, who is now 16. “He loves it!”
The Foy family traditions reach deep.
“My dad had one child in his life, and he was 37 when I was born. I was 37 when my son was born. Like I told you, I don’t like much change. And that’s all just a coincidence, but I tell [Mike Jr.] all the pressure is on him,” Foy joked.
As for the zombie pirates at the corner of Main and Maple? You can stop by and see them and all of the Foy’s displays anytime you like, free of charge. That’s just the kind of empire Foy is running.
“That’s what I like, I like to entertain them,” he said. “You don’t have to spend a dollar to come here … I just want to get better at it,” Mike said. “And I think we get better every year.”
This business model, based on having a passion for what you do and being the best you can be at it, has kept Foy’s going for the better part of a century, and will keep it going for generations to come.
Foy’s Variety Store is located at 18-20 E. Main St. in downtown Fairborn. For additional store locations and hours, please visit FoysHalloweenStore.com
‘Tis the season … to be scary!
After you’ve escaped the corn maze and carved your pumpkin, but before you jump on the hayride or head out trick-or-treating, check out Dayton City Paper’s highlights of Halloween events around the Miami Valley for your weekend. There’s something for everyone, from the smallest of hobgoblins to the thirstiest ghoul.
Englewood Cinema, 320 National Road in Englewood
Friday, Oct. 25, 6:30 p.m. – the wee hours of the morning
On the docket for this year’s horror movie marathon are “The Mummy” (1959), “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), “Dawn of the Dead” (1978) and “Day of the Dead” (1985), all preceded by a special horror film short. A. Ghastlee Ghoul and Suspira will host the evening, which will include a costume contest. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door, and the proceeds will go to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
Fairborn’s Second Annual Halloween Festival
Main Street, Downtown Fairborn
Friday, Oct. 25, 4-11 p.m.
Saturday, October 26 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
The Fairborn Area Chamber of Commerce has a weekend full of family fun planned for their Second Annual Halloween Festival. The event will feature amusement rides, games crafts, a costume contest, the 54th Annual Spooktacular Parade, Trick or Treat booths, Cinder’s Fire Dancers, Halloween weddings, a Gene Simmons impersonator, Black Label DJ and live music from the likes of the Grace Revival Band, TOAD and Eighth Leading Thought. Foy’s will open their Haunted Museum and host their 5K Fright Run in which participants who choose to be Fright Runners or Fright Walkers are given flags that those who choose to be Fright Stalkers will try to capture.
The Square, Downtown Troy
Saturday, Oct. 26 9:30 a.m.-12 p.m.
Line up for the Costume Parade will begin at 9:30 a.m. in the Hobart Government Center parking lot and proceed from the Troy-Miami county Public Library to Prouty Plaza where the Costume Contest will immediately follow. Maps for the merchant Trick or Treat will be available at the information booth the morning of the event. Make it a full day by staying for the Ghost Tour of Troy from 6-9 p.m. Tickets for the tour are $10 and available at GhostToursOfTroy.com.
Hauntfest on 5th
Oregon District, Downtown Dayton
Saturday, Oct. 26 7 p.m.-1 a.m.
This ghoulish festival, presented by the Oregon District Business Association, celebrates its 28th year with a ghost-themed party stretching the length of Fifth Street from Patterson Boulevard to Wayne Avenue. Local Personalities Amelia Robinson and Jim Bucher will emcee the event, which will include a costume contest with cash prizes, food and drink from local purveyors, street performers and live music featuring Jah Soul. Entry will be $5 before 9 p.m. and $10 after.
Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer Lumpkin at email@example.com