Columbus, Ohio USA
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Columbus' Best Halloween Haunt
By Karen Edward
October 2007

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See Yankee Trader Story 2001

Keep on Smilin' this Halloween with masks from Yankee Trader.
Christine Hayes as Hilllary; "W" worn by a dummy. PHOTO Rick Borgia

Step into Yankee Trader, the party and novelty store at 463 N. High St., and suddenly you’re 10-years old and you’ve just been let loose in a candy store, or onto a playground for that matter.

It’s hard to take in all of the 50,000 plus items that fill Yankee Trader’s rambling, 55,000 square feet of space. Gag gifts, party decorations, trinkets, gift wraps, balloons, life-size celebrity cut-outs – it’s all here. And did we mention Halloween?

“Halloween is our busiest time of year,” says Lynette Howard who co-owns Yankee Trader with her sister Debby Williams. Williams serves as an occasional buyer, but she leaves most of the buying, as well as Yankee Trader’s day-to-day operations to Howard.

“We carry everything for Halloween,” says Howard. There are wigs, masks, make-up, costumes, and speaking of costumes – Marilyn Monroe is always popular, Howard says. “But this year, we think Anna Nicole Smith will be big.”

Yankee Trader also carries costumes you aren’t likely to find at those fly-by-night Halloween shops that rise like vampires this time of year – and which Howard sees as her chief competitor. Like those Halloween shops, Yankee Trader carries costumes that are traditional best sellers (like nun and priest costumes) – but where else will you go if you feel this year, you simply must dress like a beer can? This is also the place to go if you want a costume that is “adult” in more ways than size. “Usually it’s the men who want to wear the off-color costumes,” says Howard.

If it’s your party that adult trick-or-treaters have on their “must haunt” list, you’ll be relieved to know that Yankee Trader stocks Halloween décor of all kinds, from ghostly centerpieces to ghastly body parts you can scatter around your rooms for gruesome effect.

Howard also carries what she calls “scene-setters” – packaged decorations that can be hung on walls or placed in windows and which come with various prop setters that allow you to create your own ”gory gate,” for example, or “spooky graveyard.”

There is also plenty of Halloween-decorated partyware, from plates to serving dishes, cups to napkins.

If you’re not into the ghoulish holiday, however, there are still plenty of other reasons to stop by and wander through Yankee Trader’s multiple rooms. It’s hard to imagine as you pass luau leis, piñatas, boas and paper plates proclaiming you “Over the Hill” that there was a time when Yankee Trader’s goods weren’t for public viewing.

That’s because Yankee Trader was originally a store that served only the carny (carnival) trade – supplying game vendors with their plush, stuffed toys and colorful joke gifts.

“It sat back on Park Street,” Howard says, and was then owned by Herb Evershore who had owned the shop since 1957. That’s as far back as Howard can trace Yankee Trader’s roots.

Howard’s stepfather Bob Holler bought Yankee Trader in 1965 and opened it to the retail trade in the early 1970s. By the time the late ‘70s rolled around, Holler had moved the store to its present High Street location.

Then, of course, the store didn’t ramble. It consisted of what is now called the main building, the one visitors first enter. However, when Holler died, Howard’s mother, Edith “Edie” Holler, took over the business, and she was the one who bought the two adjoining buildings and expanded the shop’s space. Howard’s mother continued to run Yankee Trader’s day-to-day operations until her death in 2000. Now, it’s Howard who keeps the immense space filled with inventory.

Lynette Howard, the dynamo behind day-to-day operations at Yankee Trader -
a part of her life since she was a child. PHOTO Darren Carlson

She rarely turns to trade shows, though. “I never really found too much at them and they consume a lot of time,” she says.

Instead, she prefers to browse through catalogs left by her regular suppliers, or to search the Internet for products that are quirky enough to fit in with the rest of her inventory.

“Halloween and New Year’s are our big holidays,” she says. St. Patrick’s Day and Mardi Gras are also popular with Yankee Trader customers – and, lately, so is the night when the Academy Awards (Oscars) are handed out. “That’s an area that’s grown recently,” says Howard. Oriental items appear to be another growth area, although Howard can’t explain why.

The holidays aren’t the only times Yankee Trader does business, of course. Church schools and carnivals, family reunions and picnics keep business booming in the summer, and in the fall, there is school.

Teachers love the place, and on any given Saturday after school starts or maybe just before, you can find city, suburban and out-of-town teachers lined up at the counter, ready to buy funny erasers and other trinkets with which to reward good students.

The return of Ohio State University students in the fall also creates something of a mini boom for Yankee Trader. “They’re in here all the time,” says Howard – picking up party items primarily, but they browse for other items as well. In fact, Howard says, part of Yankee Trader’s success can be attributed to the shop’s close proximity to the university.

Yankee Trader’s proximity to downtown’s convention center doesn’t hurt either. While most conventioneers who walk in usually limit the number and size of their purchases to what can be taken back on an airplane, Howard recently helped a customer from Wisconsin who came in and bought $1,000 worth of costumes, props and other items which Howard shipped to her. “We will ship for out-of-town customers if they’d rather not take the items with them,” she says.

Since Howard sees everyone from college students to business people walk through the shop’s doors, it’s obvious a typical Yankee Trader customer doesn’t exist. “We get everyone from babies to 80-year old grandparents,” says Howard. She also receives a good portion of Internet sales, shipping items to Florida, California, and every place in between.

“I don’t know how they find us,” she says. “But somehow they do.”

There are corporate clients as well – Columbus Public Schools, Pepsi-Cola, Ohio State University. Most of these companies buy holiday decorations. There is one exception, however. “Nationwide employees come in here a lot on scavenger hunts,” says Howard. Again, Howard can offer no further explanation.

If she were to name her top-selling items, Howard says they would include her array of gag gifts, including stink bombs and shock pens. The life-size celebrity stand-ups also do well, especially the George W. Bush stand-up – although time may be running out for its popularity.

In fact, Howard knows her customers so well that few items in her shop are non-sellers. The items she finds hard to move, she generally donates (along with a fair share of other goods) to schools, homeless shelters and other groups.

“I probably average seven calls a week for donations,” says Howard. Usually the requests are for decorations or paper goods. Whatever it is, Howard almost always gives.

Howard also listens to her customers. When the shop began receiving requests for lanyards – those strings that hold convention badges in place – she ordered some and soon found them to be among her best sellers.

In return, Howard accommodates her customers in many ways. For example, there is no problem if a customer walks into Yankee Trader and asks for Christmas decorations in July or for Halloween decorations in April.

“We always have seasonal material on hand although during the off-season it may be stored upstairs,” she says. (In addition to the showroom space, all three buildings have basements, and anywhere from three to five floors about the main floor. Some of the upstairs space functions as an office. A good portion of it, however, is for storage.)

Another customer accommodation is for adults only: You can ask Howard or her staff for adult gift items. “We do have some, but we won’t put them out,” says Howard. “We want to keep the store kid-friendly.” She says there was a time years ago when her mother was running the store that the adult gifts were displayed in a special area of the store. “It was fenced off from the rest of the merchandise,” says Howard, but kids being kids, there was one day an 11-year old was found in the area. After that, her mother said, “No more,” and promptly relegated the items to upstairs storage.

Howard is also happy to help customers locate items they’re seeking but which she doesn’t stock. These are the customers who turn to Yankee Trader because they know the shop carries items most stores don’t – or won’t because the demand isn’t there. Recently, Howard helped a woman find flags marked “POW” and “MIA” (prisoner-of-war and missing-in-action), even though it took a lot of catalog and Internet searching. So far, however, she has been unable to locate money trees for another customer.

“They’re looking for something that looks like a tree you can clip money or maybe gift-cards to,” says Howard. She has not abandoned the search. She just hasn’t found the trees so far. If anybody can find them, though, it’s sure to be Howard. After all, Yankee Trader has been in her blood, a part of her life, since she was small.

“I hope people think Yankee Trader as someplace the whole family can go to and have fun,” she says.

Customers who come into the shop with a sense of adventure, a sense of humor and a willingness to be a little silly, to laugh, to have a good time are her favorite customers.

Whether you come to Yankee Trader to shop for prank gifts, birthday favors or party decorations, there is always one thing you can count on. Lynette Howard will be on the trail, looking for new items that will surprise and delight you. And this time of year, maybe something that will scare you a little bit, too!

Yankee Trader was located at 463 N. High Street in the Short North neighborhood of Columubus, Ohio.
The store closed October 2010

See Also Yankee Trader Story 2001

©2007 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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