For This Haunted House Business, Halloween During Covid Is Extra Scary

The zombies have been practicing at home. They stand before mirrors, screaming and grunting through their masks. “They want to make sure they are loud enough,” says Jennifer Condron. “That people can hear their snarls.”

Condron is the founder of New York City-based BulletProof Productions, whose centerpiece is Bane Haunted House, transplanted last year to Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood from New Jersey. Most Halloween attractions aren’t much creepier than Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Bane, rated by BuzzFeed as one of the nation’s scariest, is more like the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. The gore is cinematic, the spaces tight and disorienting. Visitors are separated from their parties and forced to undergo the terror–which includes crawling, sliding, and spinning in the dark–alone.

In this uncertain season, Halloween business owners like Condron are enduring their own kind of terror. Just 25 percent of small-size haunts are opening this year, according to the Haunted Attraction Association. To diversify her revenue stream beyond the crucial weeks of September and October, Condron in the spring built a new suite of escape rooms, into which she sunk around $275,000. But those rooms are mothballed until next year because of coronavirus. 

Condron has spent another $100,000 preparing Bane for Halloween 2020. That investment includes normal expenditures–refreshing the space with new scares, hiring actors, marketing–and Covid-related ones, like equipping the zombie hordes with PPE and installing MERV 13 air filters on all five floors.

Normally Bane would have begun welcoming fear fans by the end of September. Now Condron is hoping for October 16. She says she has been cleared to open by the state but can’t get a straight answer from the city. “Over the past two months, we have been hearing rumblings that we can’t because we are indoor family entertainment, and the city is not allowing those attractions to open in phase four,” says Condron, referring to the current stage of New York’s reopening plan. She has put in multiple calls to the NYC Department of Small Business Services. “It is always, ‘We don’t know,'” Condron says. “‘We will get back to you.’ This has been going on for weeks.”

So Condron is proceeding with fingers crossed. That means reimagining Bane–whose rules include “Don’t touch us! We may touch you!”–for current conditions. In the back of her mind lurks the fear that for her business, Halloween may be dead. “Anything could happen,” she says. “It is scary.”OCT 8, 2020