Halloween in the 80s: Did you visit Oscar the monster at Switz? (Pictures)

If you grew up in the 1980s, particularly in the northern suburbs of Syracuse, a trip to Switzerland was a must before Halloween.

The store had everything to make your Halloween a success: makeup demos, candy-making demonstrations, party supplies, cards, candy and, of course, the aisles and aisles of masks and costumes.

Prior to becoming the “Halloween headquarters” of central New York City, Switz’s was founded in 1947 as a “five and ten” store at its locations on Brighton Avenue and South Salina Street.

In 1954, founder Mark Switz opened a store north of Syracuse and closed the downtown store.

The giant ogre, Oscar and other Halloween monsters at Switz in 1987. Syracuse Post-StandardSyracuse Post-Standard

Incredibly, Halloween was almost an afterthought in the store for much of its history.

“In the founder’s last years,” a 1989 Post-Standard article said of the old Switz store on Brewerton Road, “a row of Halloween items embellished with little ghosts and other accessories from Halloween became known as “Spook Alley”.

But in the early 1980s, Switz’s son-in-law, Bertel Schmidt, changed everything.

In 1984, Switz’s moved into a new 60,000 square foot Bavarian-style building, crowned by a 21-foot clock tower that could be seen by passing motorists on Route 81.

The moment was fortuitous; the Halloween business was starting to flourish.

“Bert was a big kid,” Switz merchandise manager Gene Tallman told Post-Standard. “He had the foresight to be one of the first to capitalize on what was going on with Halloween.”

He has been to West Germany twice for international toy fairs, and returned with some “advanced creations”.

He brought back a five-member “Skeleton Band” and one that would turn his store into a must-see destination for Halloween fans young and old.

Oscar the Ogre was a mechanical “evil giant” 14 feet tall and 1,700 pounds.

There were only two in the world and Bert Schmidt bought one, hoping the giant monster would find its place in his new store.

“He was barely in shape,” said Tallman. “I think Bert got a little bit of luck there.”

Oscar towered over customers in a huge display at the front of the store, bellowing and swaying above the wide-eyed children. He carried a giant wooden club in his right hand and was decorated with “severed heads” chained to his clothes.

His nickname was “Dark Lord”, which sounded a lot scarier than Oscar.

“I really don’t know how we came up with the name,” Switz operator Barbara Schmidt told the Herald-Journal in 1988. “When we got it, we were just talking about a name and Oscar came along. It’s not a parent’s name or anything like that.


Switz’s Halloween exhibition with Oscar in the background in 1985. Syracuse Post-StandardSyracuse Post-Standard

Despite his name, Oscar has become the center of attention in the store.

There were Oscar coloring contests, Oscar shirts, and stuffed toys.

The Oscars exhibit was so popular that passenger coaches often made special stops at Switz for tourists to get a glimpse.

And those who came for Oscar and the “Skeleton Band” explored the aisles of the store for their Halloween costumes and supplies.

It always seemed like Switz had everything you needed for the perfect costume, for any budget.

“At Switz’s,” a story from 1987 read, “you can spend anywhere from 99 cents for a plastic nose to $ 100 for a furry gorilla costume. There are realistic bump, bite, and bruise kits for $ 6.98, featuring a smacked nose, chewed thumb, injured chin, and open sore.

It was no wonder that the busiest day of the year in Switzerland was the Saturday before Halloween.

Bertel Smith was named New York State’s Small Businessperson of the Year in 1986, and that year Switz’s sales grew 20-fold from 20 years earlier.


Exhibition of masks at Switz in 1985. Post-StandardSyracuse Post-Standard

But it did not last.

In 1992, Switz’s was in pain, forced to leave his magnificent store for a place in the Marketplace Mall.

The recent additions of malls in places like Shoppingtown and the arrival of Wal-Mart in downtown New York have slashed their sales.

Oscar made the trip to the store’s new home. But the magic was gone.

In July 1993, Switz’s announced that it was closing its doors for good.

Oscar was purchased by Richard Wagoner of Cicero, who stored the once fearsome creature in his garage in the hope of selling it.


Bertel Schmidt, president of Switz’s, brought Oscar from West Germany to central New York. Syracuse Post-StandardSyracuse Post-Standard


A member of the Skeleton Band at the Switz Halloween Show in 1985. Syracuse Post-StandardSyracuse Post-Standard


Switz’s Halloween exhibit featuring Oscar the Ogre and a group of five skeletons. Syracuse Post-StandardSyracuse Post-Standard


A clown mask with Switz’s smiles as sales clerk Debbie Shibley straightens the display in 1986. Syracuse Post-StandardSyracuse Post-Standard


Shoppers enter the grand opening of Switz’s store at its new location in North Syracuse on South Bay Road in 1984. Syracuse Post-StandardSyracuse Post-Standard


Five-year-old Camden Rundell tries on a two-faced mask at Switz for Halloween in 1991. He finally decided to be a skeleton for Halloween. Post-standardSyracuse Post-Standard


Switz’s was the “home of Oscar and the” seat of Halloween “in that 1988 newspaper ad. Heritage MicrofilmHeritage microfilm


This Oscar-winning coloring contest was held in the Post-Standard in October 1986, with four big winners competing for Oscars and plush t-shirts. Heritage microfilmHeritage microfilm


“Have you ever visited Oscar,” asks this 1986 Switz ad. The masks were selling for 19 cents to $ 62.98. Heritage microfilmHeritage microfilm


Oscar’s comeback was the theme of this advertisement in the October 1990 Swiss newspaper. Heritage MicrofilmHeritage microfilm


Switz promised “the scariest Halloween yet” in this 1992 commercial. It gives an idea of ​​what the store has to offer for anyone looking for the perfect Halloween costume. It would be the last Halloween in the store’s Bavarian-style store on South Bay Road. Heritage microfilmHeritage microfilm


Richard Wagoner of Cicero poses with Oscar the Ogre’s head in his driveway in 1994. He bought the monster after Switz’s closed the year before. He had no luck selling it.


The heyday of Shoppingtown: 105 stores! Mrs. Pac-Man! Record Town’s bargain bins! Huge crowds!

1981: Best pizza? Best athlete? Better job? Find out what readers thought was the “Best of Syracuse”

Halloween 2020 will feature a rare blue moon and daylight saving time

This feature is part of CNY Nostalgia, a section on syracuse.com. Send your ideas and curiosities to Johnathan Croyle at [email protected] or call 315-427-3958.

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