Newton-This year's Halloween means more than candy and costumes for the kiddies n Halloween has become big business. Halloween is expected to scare up record sales this year, an estimated $3.12 billion up from $2.96 billion last year, according to a 2004 Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey conducted by the National Retail Federation (NRF), the largest U.S. retail trade group. Halloween is now the second most popular holiday for home décor. Halloween has become one of the top reasons for Americans to throw a party (it's the third largest party day in the U.S. behind New Year's Eve and Super Bowl Sunday). And according to Hallmark research, more than 50 million Americans participate in Halloween; that's about 90 percent of families with children up to age 12. Local retailers agree that Halloween sales have developed into a significant holiday buying "season," filling a pre-Christmas void. And every business interviewed has seen home décor as the greatest area of increase, and now offer its own variety of Halloween decorations for indoors and out. "Halloween has always been our number two holiday," said April Kaprelian of Frogmore Country Elegance in Cranberry Lake. "Halloween pieces sell for us throughout the year, often as shower gifts. So we have a room filled with Halloween décor that we keep open all year, just for those buyers." With other holidays, like Easter and Mother's Day, accounting for a mere weekend of increased sales, area garden centers cherish the shopping season that has developed around Halloween. "We can't really compete with the pick your own pumpkin' fields at the larger farms, but the increased interest in Halloween has been amazing," said Emmanuela D'Angelo of D'Angelo's Garden World in Newton. "Thirty-two years ago when we opened, Halloween wasn't a big part of the business. Now there is such a demand for fall wreaths, hay bales, corn stalks, any kind of decoration. We even put up a straw maze this year for all the smaller kids who are afraid of those big corn mazes." Mohawk Gardens in Sparta claims to have the most extensive Halloween shop in the area. "Six years ago we could hardly fill this space, but now we have over 3,000-square-feet of Halloween, plus all of our outdoor plants," said Bob Kriete. "Halloween still accounts for a relatively small percentage of our overall business, because we do such tremendous nursery and landscaping sales in the spring and summer, but the Halloween season is an important part of the business because we do so little out of the garden center in October." The new owners at Lockwood Farms in Stanhope agree that indoor decorations have been responsible for the largest increase in their Halloween business. "We are a garden center, so we definitely sell our share of outdoor items for the holiday, like corn stalks and pumpkins," said Randi Frumolt. In fact, as of this writing, Lockwood had completely sold out of all Halloween inflatable characters, and had only two mums left from the thousands originally available earlier in the month. "Now that people know about the Halloween room in the expanded gift store upstairs, the in-home items are really moving too," she said. While Halloween's timing is integral to the overall business of local garden centers, the Halloween business is significant to the overall revenues for party stores. Halloween accounted for 25 percent of sales last year for Party City Corp., the nation's largest party goods chain. And local party retailers are seeing similar numbers, between 20 and 25 percent. "Halloween is definitely our busiest holiday," said John Palmer of Party Planet in Byram. "Our Halloween sales have increased every year we have been in business, so we have increased our selection of everything. We carry over 500 different styles of costumes and have an increased assortment of decorations, electronics and accessories." Local residents echo the enthusiasm about Halloween. "It has become a real gathering holiday' for us," said Patti LaPola of Andover Township. "My whole family comes over, we all have a simple meal together and then we get dressed. You can be anything for Halloween n that is why it is so much fun!" Throughout the area, costume offerings have increased to include adults and pets. Any decoration, electronic gadget or accessory can be found to turn any house into a haunted house. So no matter where Halloween falls on any individual holiday list, there is no denying that Halloween sales are "boo"-ming.