It seems the cost of scaring people isn’t paying off.

The owner of ScreamFest, Mike Sheppard, says after more than a decade of screams and scares, Calgary’s annual horror festival will be shutting down, come the end of Halloween season this year.

“It makes me sad that we won’t have that [ScreamFest] anymore,” says Sheppard. “There are people who come year-in and year-out. They love it and our staff look forward to it every year.”

Since outgrowing Calgary Olympic Park (COP) nearly six years ago, ScreamFest has been run out of Calgary’s Stampede Grandstand. This year, the event will run for 13 days, concluding Oct. 31 with an expected crowd of more than 6,500, each choosing from one of three ticket options: $30, $40, $50. 

ScreamFest GhostbustersThe Ghostbusters of Alberta are gearing up for some ghost-fighting action at the last-ever ScreamFest, which wraps up on Oct. 31. Photo by Sam Nar.

Sheppard, a former Mount Royal University (MRU) business professor, cites various reasons for ScreamFest’s demise, but costs were the biggest issue. 

“It’s getting harder and harder, … everything is eating into it. We can’t increase our prices as fast as our costs are going up,” Sheppard explains, noting that costs such as rent and insurance have skyrocketed since ScreamFest’s inception in 2005.

But with a staff of more than 150 people, Sheppard says it’s Alberta’s minimum wage hike earlier this month that did the horror fest in.

According to numbers from The Calgary Chamber of Commerce, minimum wage rates in the province have gone up more than 40 per cent in the last three years alone.

“We’re a very labour-based industry,” says Sheppard. “It takes a lot of labour to do what we do. With minimum wage going up, our wages go up quite a bit.”

Spooky GhostGirlMost employees are on scaring duty for ScreamFest’s final year or setting up lights and fog machines for more terrifying vibes. Photo by Sam Nar.

Given that ScreamFest bills itself as “Canada’s largest and scariest Halloween event,” Sheppard states its shutdown may hold a grim sign for small businesses throughout Calgary.

Calgary Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) reports that small businesses make up 90 per cent of the city’s total businesses. Sheppard says that as Calgary’s economy continues on a downward spiral, ScreamFest won’t be the only ones feeling the heat.

“We are not unique,” says Sheppard, adding that declining profit patterns have proven themselves among his businesses and his friends’.

Richard Sutherland, an MRU associate professor in the department of economics, justice and policy studies has been studying cultural events like ScreamFest for years.

While he is unaware of ScreamFest’s internal operations and budgets, he’s not convinced minimum wage is what’s driving the horror-centric celebration out of town.

“A niche festival like ScreamFest is vulnerable,” says Sutherland, explaining that the festival relies heavily on public support and economic stability, neither of which have done too well in the previous years due to Calgary’s recent downturn.

Screamfest LogoCalgary’s iconic horror festival, ScreamFest, is hosting one final year of screams, complete with haunted house, daunting rides and complex escape rooms. Photo by Sam Nar.

According to Sutherland, fierce competition in the digital age may also be creating roadblocks for ScreamFest.

“You’re going to be competing head-to-head with those streaming services and download services like Apple T.V.,” says Sutherland, adding that, “Horror is actually fairly strong at the box office right now so … ScreamFest also has to compete with Hollywood.”

Sutherland says despite loud complaints, boosting the minimum wage may have positive effects for business and the overall economy.

“There’s a sense among many economists that you get a bigger bang for your buck by raising wages at the bottom rather than the top,” says Sutherland.

“You’re helping people who, generally speaking, need the money. There’s certainly an adjustment period with getting used to increased wages but overall, I think it’s a good thing.”

But even with the positive changes to come, Sheppard’s concerns aren’t without merit. A recent report by the Bank of Canada estimates an expected surge in Canada’s prices by 2019, along with the loss of about 60,000 jobs due to unavoidable rising costs related to minimum wage increases.

Horror fanatics in the city have flocked to social media, expressing sadness over ScreamFest’s downfall.

ScreamFestCommentorsHorror fans and friends are expressing their disappointment after ScreamFest announces it will be closing after its 13th year. Graphic by Sam Nar.

A ScreamFest visitor, Emily Brown, says the beloved scare-event was a great experience for Calgarians and will be sorely missed by the public.

“I’ve been a big horror fanatic for most of my life so … it’s kind of sad that it’s [ScreamFest] leaving now.”

Nonetheless, Sheppard urges horror fans not to despair, hinting he has another Halloween celebration already in the works for next year.

Editor: Colin Macgillivray |          

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