Neil Clark has a weakness for Halloween.
He’s got a playlist on his iPod Touch loaded up with more than 600 spine-chilling tunes. He’s got more than a dozen latex masks — mad clowns, scary trolls and maniacal beasts — hanging in his closet at home.
Sometimes, he’ll even slip on a creepy costume and roam the aisles of his Pearl Nix Parkway business, keeping customers entertained.
So yeah, when October rolls around, Clark’s in his element. Fitting he should own The Party Shop, a homegrown, locally-owned celebration emporium and costume shop that’s kept Hall County brimming with Halloween spirit for more than three decades.
Clark took the helm in June 2014, but he’s been a part of the family business as far back as he can remember. His parents, Paul and LaTrelle Clark, opened the Party Shop in its original location at Towne Center Plaza on Browns Bridge Road in 1982 — then a 1,200 square foot business specializing in gifts and greeting cards.
Now located at 300 Pearl Nix Parkway and boasting 4,000 square feet of shopping space, the store has evolved to offer party supplies, tuxedo rentals, cake and candy-making supplies and, yes, more Halloween gear than you can imagine.
This time of year, Clark’s business feels like a shrine to the Oct. 31 holiday.
As customers step through the door, a digital bell chimes, and a wall of festive Mylar balloons bounce and shuffle. The sweet, chemical breeze of latex masks wafts in the air. The rainbow assortment of wigs, the polyester costumes and durashape hats — this is Halloween, Clark said, “and we love it.”
“It’s a fun time of year. We really get into it,” he explained as the eerie synthesizer theme from “Nightmare on Elm Street” played through the store speakers.
Clark said The Party Shop is one of the oldest stores of its kind in the southeastern United States.
“There’s just not many family-owned stores like us still around. It’s not always easy, with the chain stores and the temporary Halloween stores that pop up, but we’ve always been customer-oriented, and that helps.”
Added Clark: “We believe in what we sell. We listen to people, and we try to help them. Sometimes, people will come into the store and show us a picture on their phone and say, ‘This is what I want.’”
The time that he and staff members invest with customers is a big factor in The Party Shop’s success, he said. “Sometimes, you get to help people figure out what they want to be for Halloween, and that’s great. It’s a lot of fun.”
Brad Hayes of Buford said the customer service at The Party Shop is “unbeatable.”
He came into the store for the first time several days ago to buy decorations for a haunted house he’s working on in Buford.
“I’ve already been back four times,” Hayes said. “They had everything I needed, and the mother and father there (Paul and LaTrelle) and the owner were all very helpful.”
Neil Clark said family is the “secret sauce” to staying in business more than three decades.
“My wife (Chelsea Clark) is my partner, 100 percent, and she has had a huge impact on this store,” he said, adding that his parents are his mentors.
Taking over ownership of a family business more than three decades old, he said, “is a big deal. We take a lot of pride in this place. This is how we exist. This is every day for our family, just like it was 33 years ago.”
Added Clark: “We feel like we brought Halloween to Gainesville and Hall County, and we’re grateful to all of our customers here.”