Looking at some Costume Conversions

Greetings loyal reader, with Halloween approaching I feel it’s time to provide an update. As my sporadic posting schedule continues I don’t want you to think I have abandoned my site. Prior to this the most recent update was the publishing of my Del Taco and Steak N Shake pages. I’ll provide some more information as to what’s coming up at the end of this post.

One of the oldest trends in retail photography are photos of abandoned places. Originally retail photography seemed to be somewhat of a subgenre of abandoned photography. I remember my first connection with retail photography being a blog post about an abandoned McDonald’s in Indiana. As retail grew into its own fandom, the phraseology began to change to differentiate us. An example would be the term “dead mall”. The characteristics of a dead mall vary from person to person. However, broad strokes would include something along the lines of having most or all anchors closed, few to no major brand stores left in the mall, low tenancy, but not completely vacant either. It’s a mall which is basically on its last legs.

This Halloween Express occupies the recently closed Palais Royal at the former Westchase “Mall”.

Today we start by looking at a Halloween Pop-Up, in a former Palais Royal. Opened in 1998, it was a late addition to the shopping center and as far as I can tell was the replacement for long defunct Craig’s Clothing. Usually pop-up shops, Halloween or otherwise, do a poor job covering up what store used to host them. For the most part they come in put up their racks, merchandise, and do the best they can to cover at least copyrighted decor or anything which confuse the customer. This also happens to be the way in which vacated chain shops in dead malls are usually converted. However, there is a key difference between the two examples.

This photo was taken in the center of the store looking forward. All the fixtures were brought in, very little was left from Palais Royal.

As seen in this photo fixtures, shelving, and all merchandise are all generally pulled. Although, much is left behind showing this store’s history. Examples from this photo include the well kept tile floor, and the difficult to see built-in shelving towards the front of the store. What sets conversions apart from pop-ups is conversions are far more permanent. This shoddy work is usually a requirement of the lease which prohibits any changes to the structure.

The Fitting Room sign was removed from the wall, but was nearby. This may have happened during liquidation.

If appropriate for the situation, conversions will generally utilize built-in features such as Fitting Rooms. However conversions will usually install their own temporary fitting rooms, to better suite their needs. The Halloween Express folks were still in the process of building out the store when I visited in late September. The Fitting Rooms were still accessible, but the removal of the sign, and layout of merchandise as seen above indicated that they would probably not continue to utilize this space.

The use of the plastic black tarp helps to better hide the back end of the store.

“Crowd Control” is generally limited to strategically placing shelving material along whatever sections the temporary tenants wishes to close off. Unfortunately I was unable to capture an image of the vacated sales space, as it was being used as a backroom. This seems to be somewhat common for conversions. My guess would be that back rooms are often much hotter, and less desirable places to work in. As conversions generally don’t utilize all of the floor space their hosts once needed, this makes sense. However, not all conversions have this advantage.

You can tell this building has sat unmaintained for quite sometime by the amount of grime building up, and trash around the edges.

One pop-up which has no trouble using up floor space, is this Spirit Halloween in the former Walgreens on Highway 6 and Westheimer. The smaller size of this location compared to big-box pop-ups means that floor space and back room layouts are still somewhat preserved. After Walgreens closed in early 2017, this building has sat vacant for nearly 3 years. Mostly being used as a garbage dump, and occasionally a stop for outdoor “vendors” (Not unlike the rug vendors who squatted at the vacant Exxon across Westheimer for years). Before we take a look inside, I wanted to demonstrate how horrific the exterior conditions had become.

When electricity was restored to the building the sign automatically reverted to what was last programmed in. Leading me to believe that this location closed shortly after February.


After sitting completely abandoned, with no security around many holes had developed in the glass. No doubt, someone was throwing rocks or other large items into the store for amusement.


All the junk that had built up around the store was “hidden” by the Spirit folks and by hidden, I mean pushed under the Drive-Thru Pharmacy canopy. This picture doesn’t not capture all of the junk.

Less apparent but still noticeable in the signage photo, is the lack of attention to the plants growing around the edge of the building. The trees and bushes were so thick they felt like a curtain which was protecting the store from the highway. As well, the grass was high enough that you would want to look at the ground before walking. I personally would not have felt the building was in ready to open condition. However, pop-up shops seem to open quite early, due to their limited time frame.

The interior of this former Walgreens wasn’t in terribly bad shape. Despite the holes in the window and exterior decay.

Getting into the Walgreens we see some obvious pop-up compromises. Walgreens used those huge mirrors up above to assist their employees and cameras in loss prevention. However, Spirit is far less concerned and covered up about half of the mirror space with their banner. Some other remnants would be the huge security camera domes. Although the iconic blue “Security Camera” placards had been removed. Most of the rest of the store had been covered up.

This would have been where the Refrigerator and Freezer would have been during the Walgreens phase of life. As it was all removed, Spirit was using this as a box storage area.
This was the former pharmacy waiting area. The pharmacy walls and counters are still present. I wanted to get a better photo of this, but I also visited this store while it was being built and full of staff.
Looking towards the front of this store, the iconic front architecture would be something that a conversion would have a difficult time covering up. As Walgreens divested many stores in Houston around this time period, there are some good conversion examples to compare to.
The reused of the original checkout location is likely not a coincidence. It was the location of power, and internet drops. It’s likely that Spirit develops a plan for commonly used stores.

Overall this wasn’t a bad setup, although the exterior conditions were lacking, a nicely detailed interior helped to make up for it. One thing you may notice is the number of boxes everywhere. Boxes are kept at stores like these as when they shut down everything is shipped back, and warehoused until next Halloween. It’s not like a liquidation where everything is sold off.

The exterior of this store is much cleaner, and neater than the previous.

Speaking of Liquidations, our next stop is Babies ‘R Us a chain of stores which recently went through liquidations. As such Spirit is also the first store to open up in the former space. However the wait is not quite as extreme as the Walgreens. Notice the exterior theming is much different that the last location. No inflatable displays, banner signs, or anything really other than a very plain sign. I would guess this is either signage permit requirements in Sugar Land, or a requirement by the shopping center.

Much of the themed flooring was purposely covered up by displays. The orange tape on the floor was meant to show where the aisles were.
Spirit only used about 1/3 of the store space. this is a shot of what was behind the wall. Unused space, tons of boxes, and a single leftover Babies R Us shelf!
One thing the larger stores seem to be adding is an interactive experience. This location had a mini haunted house you could walk through. I visited this location shortly before Halloween and was not able to get a chance to go through the haunted house.
Coming up to the front end, I found they were using original Babies ‘R Us fixtures for their checkout stands. Most of the returns counter, along with the first checkout stand remained.
On the way out, I got a pic of the back end of the hanging decor above the checkouts. I assume the logos were once part of a decor package.

Well I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a look at some Costumed Conversions for Halloween. Be sure to stick around, I have multiple updates planned between now and Christmas (lets see if I stick to that!). Anyhow, if the slow update pace bugs you, I do update my Facebook somewhat more regularly.


See you next time, loyal reader -Mike


  1. I went to that Palais Royal when it was still open! It’s kind of crazy it still feels familiar to me even after the redecorating!

  2. […] Today we’re taking a look at one of these former locations. The Willowbrook store closed in mid-2020 amid the pandemic and unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the closing sale. However to my surprise it has “reopened” under the Spirit Halloween banner. While Spirit is no newcomer to Houston area, they tend to go for smaller shops as seen in last years…. […]

  3. Speaking as someone who is familiar with, but has never been in, Halloween pop-up stores, this was a fun post! I always enjoy seeing the remnants of previous tenants.