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Reveling in spell cast by 'Spirit of Halloweentown'

It’s not every day St. Helens is able to attract an estimated 5,000 people to its downtown.

But that’s exactly what happened Saturday, Oct. 10, as the fervor over the city’s placement in Halloweentown history cemented with actress Kimberly Brown’s magical lighting of the pumpkin in the courthouse plaza.

Several businesses — seemingly most of those that remained open, as some opted to keep their regular hours and closed — reported record sales. And though the magnitude of the event seemed to catch some of the organizers and city officials off guard, the whole shebang by and large went off with few hitches.

If anything, the greatest downside to the massive turnout was the loss of immediate opportunity. A few food and drink vendors here, as well at least a handful of Honey Buckets, would have resulted in an even more positive experience — and it was positive — for event attendees, especially for those out-of-towners who were getting to know St. Helens for the first time.

But really, despite several statements from officials speculating on an expected turnout of 15,000 for Saturday’s pumpkin lighting, did any of us really think that would happen?

Probably not. Even though blogs appearing on popular MTV and Buzzfeed’s websites pumped up the volume for Halloweentown and actress Brown’s publicized appearance, if was hard to chase away the specter of doubt regarding the Spirit of Halloweentown’s allure to out-of-town visitors.

Since 2009, when the Halloweentown festival started (the name was later changed to “Spirit of Halloweentown” following a scuffle among competing organizers and merchant groups), the event has been fairly low key, with most of the appeal locally focused. It was fun, and each year seemed to gain momentum, but every indication was that its popularity would be a slow build.

As John Walsh, the St. Helens city administrator, told Spotlight reporter Nicole Thill, planning for this year’s event was based on prior years, when just a few hundred people would show up.

In an Oct. 7, 2009, article in the Spotlight, there was documented doubt about whether the Halloweentown angle should be played at all. Indeed, teens were more into the film Twilight, the 2008 movie based on the Stephenie Meyer novel, parts of which were filmed in St. Helens.

But who could have foretold at that time that the return of Brown, dressed in the garb of the young witch “Marnie” from the Disney Channel’s movie, “Halloweentown,” could conjure such magic for St. Helens? Unquestionably it was her appearance that captured the imagination of event attendees, and in fact captured the Spirit of Halloweentown in one bright moment for all of us to behold.

Now, everything has changed. St. Helens, which for so long has searched for something, anything, to put the city back on the map following the downfall of its industrial legacy, has a bona fide winner on its hands.

And the timing couldn’t be better. The city’s recent purchase of the former Boise Cascade veneer plant riverfront property, and the mounting plans to transform that property into a genuine asset for the city, along with a surge in popularity, set the stage for good things to come.

“It was [crazy] numbers of people that turned out. It just shows you that we had something people wanted,” Spirit of Halloweentown event coordinator Tina Curry said. “Anytime you have something like that you have to build on it.”

We, and no doubt many others locally, regionally and — dare we say — nationally, look forward to watching that build take shape.

St. Helens, in October, is Halloweentown.

Now, the real magic trick is to make the spell cast by this year’s Spirit of Halloweentown something lasting we can talk about for years to come.