Florida

Clown industry spooked by creepy-clown threats

ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

A creepy clown greets Zoo Miami visitors at a Halloween festival last year.
A creepy clown greets Zoo Miami visitors at a Halloween festival last year. For the Miami Herald

Two weeks before Halloween, some businesses and organizations have decided clowns are no laughing matter.

Costumes are being pulled from shelves, local police departments are making warning videos and clowns for hire are seeing a drop in business, as South Florida is taking measures to avoid creepy-clown confrontations.

Miami police said clown pranks can end up going wrong and the consequences could be serious. The department took to video with its warning.

The Broward Sheriff's Office offered this advice: “We would advise the community to avoid dressing as a clown this Halloween.”

Nationally and locally, the business implications escalated. On Monday, Target said that it is removing clown masks from its stores out of “sensitivity to the issue at hand.” By Monday evening, clown masks could not be found on target.com.

Ronald McDonald was put on a sabbatical for the foreseeable future, “mindful of the current climate around clown sightings in communities,” a McDonald’s spokeswoman said, according to NBC News.

Killer clown pranks can end up going wrong and the consequences could be serious, officers say.

A chain of 18 Goodwill thrift stores in the Tampa Bay area is yanking clown masks, costumes and accessories off racks this Halloween season. Calls to Goodwill South Florida’s corporate offices were not returned Tuesday.

Professional clowns say the pranks and threats have harmed their image.

“Clowning is a profession near and dear to the hearts of many of these people, and it is hurting their businesses,” said Sonny Banks, owner of All Star Events, a South Florida company that books clowns as one of many party services it offers.

Even best-selling horror author Stephen King, whose clown villain Pennywise has terrified readers since he appeared in his novel “It” three decades ago, took to Twitter to try to calm people down. He tweeted, “Hey, guys, time to cool the clown hysteria — most of em are good, cheer up the kiddies, make people laugh.”

All of this depresses Heather Green, who has been a professional clown for about 15 years and has seen clowning industry work hard to fight off the creepy-clown stigma since “It” came out, and now the industry has been punched again: “If people only knew how much happiness clowns can bring into kids’ lives. Unfortunately, it is what it is.”

Green has also witnessed the business impact first-hand. She runs Silly Farm, a face-paint store in Davie that also books clowns and face-painting events. Silly Farm is also a subsidiary of All Star Events.

“In the past two months, we’ve received zero inquiries about clowns [for parties], and that’s not normal,” she said. But her store has fielded calls and questions about creepy-clown makeup.

She’s worried about her friends who are clowns. Some, such as a Chick-fil-A clown, are toning down the face makeup and wig part of the costume while emphasizing more the apron. Others are doing their best to make their routines more magic-driven, with less of a focus on their character. All of them, she said, are hoping this creepy-clown wave subsides after Halloween.

“There are really beautiful clowns who spread joy and make kids happy and don’t scare kids. The scary clowns are not representative of clowning,” she said.

While the creepy-clown episodes are not new, clown sightings reported across the country this fall have triggered police investigations and have led to school lockdowns.

Schools in Fort Lauderdale, Lantana. Hollywood, Miramar and Oakland Park since the beginning of the month have been the targets of threats on social media or taunted online with ominous photos. Fort Lauderdale High School spent an hour on lockdown when the clown threats on social media were followed by a caller who said if students left school they would be shot, the Sun Sentinel reported on Monday.

Miami-Dade public schools have also received non-credible threats on social media and urged students, staff and the community to use social media wisely.

“While Miami-Dade Schools Police remains vigilant, local, state, and federal law enforcement authorities believe this to be a nationwide hoax associated with the upcoming Halloween observance,” its statement said.

Clown sightings date back years, but most recently were set off again with reports in South Carolina of children claiming clowns had tried to lure them into nearby woods. Sightings have also been reported in several other states, including Florida, North Carolina, Alabama and Georgia, and at least one school district in Connecticut has banned clown costumes for Halloween, PIX11 reported.

World Clown Association President Randy Christensen recently addressed the reports: “Whoever is doing this crazy stuff is not a clown. We try not to focus on the negatives but try to provide a positive image of clowning. If somebody dresses like a doctor . . . and comes at you with a chainsaw, he is not really a doctor.”

In Miami-Dade County, you can still find an assortment of clown costumes at La Casa de Trucos/ House of Costumes, 1343 SW Eighth St.

Jorge Torres, the store manager, said clown costume sales have been normal. He said he doesn't understand why people are dressing up as clowns to scare children.

“We sell costumes that are much scarier than clown costumes,” he said.

Miami Herald writer Ariana Figueroa contributed to this report.

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