At the suggestion of a high school friend, she opened Halloween Express in Greenville 19 years ago, and it has become the hometown go-to place for costumes, accessories and decorations in a city that finds Halloween a real treat.
Halloween Express at 422 E. Arlington Blvd. across from Greenville Mall opened on Labor Day weekend in preparation for this year’s holiday bash. Traffic already has been steady and only will pick up as the bewitching day draws near.
“If you come in this store, it’s just an insane place to be, and I love it,” Cartwright said of the last few weeks before Oct. 31. “That’s when the energy’s high. Everyone’s excited about it.
“Greenville is being really good about trying to keep it safe for everybody, and we just want people to go out there and have a good time. It’s not about scaring people. … It’s not the devil, it’s what you make it. It’s one night you can go have fun. It’s just like anything else. And we try to make sure that we promote that, having a fun, safe Halloween. Whether you’re my age, whether you’re a college student, you need some time to relax and enjoy yourself.”
Halloween always was a big deal when Cartwright was a child — her dad enjoyed helping her pick out a costume, and her mom decorated their yard with homemade tombstones.
At East Carolina University, she was among students who gather by the thousands downtown for the annual Halloween celebration. When she got married, a friend from high school told her about Halloween Express.
Cartwright suggested that her friend bring one in Greenville.
“She said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ So I did. Here I am 19 years later,” Cartwright said.
Halloween Express has set up shop in several spots in Greenville through the years but has settled in the former Party Makers site near Cubbies. Cartwright said the location is ideal, especially with two buildings where she can have separate adult and children’s sections.
All the animated props and anything that could potentially scare a child are housed in the adult section.
“There’s a really fine line between having a really amazing store and not scaring children,” Cartwright said. “Now they don’t have to see anything scary. And, too, it keeps it from being so crowded.”
Halloween Express offers an assortment of props and decorations, but its specialty is costumes. Among the rows and rows of selections are classic favorites to the latest movie and cartoon characters. Cartwright attends a show each January to make sure she has a pulse on what’s hot.
“Every year they have to come up with something new, and they do, and we always have it,” she said.
Wonder Woman and Pennywise from “It” already have been reordered this year. Characters from “Descendants” are among the most popular for children. Inflatable costumes also are growing in popularity.
“The industry has come so far, every licensed item, every movie, every character, every cartoon,” Cartwright said. “People just don’t have the time to sew a costume, They want to come, they want to buy everything here, and they want to go home.”
Many of those are college-aged girls, and Cartwright knows what they want.
“The college girls just want to look good,” she said. “That’s what they want to do, and I want them to.”
Visitors to the shop can expect a ghastly greeting on one side — animated props set up near the entrance — and a friendly welcome on the other. Cartwright said. She says customer service has been a hallmark of Halloween Express and keeps customers coming back year after year.
“The thing that I really love is girls that I dressed when they were 6 years old work for me now,” she said. “I love that.
“We definitely take pride in making people happy and letting them have a fun experience in our store. … We want you to enjoy it, and it’s fun, and we have really good decorations, but our main purpose is to give you good costumes, give you good accessories, give you the largest selection in Greenville … everything you to make your Halloween how you want it.”