Korea Avoids Halloween Festivities a Year After Deadly Crush

(Bloomberg) -- A year after a deadly crowd crush of festival-goers in Seoul, the country is refraining from Halloween celebrations, with major retailers avoiding promotions and police urging people to be careful of crowded venues.

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Halloween gained popularity in South Korea in the 2000s as younger generations embraced it as a chance to hold costume parties, and it became a key sales event for retailers. This year, Lotte department store and its rival Shinsegae decided against displaying ornaments like pumpkins or holding festive campaigns and events, according to spokespeople. Operators of discount stores, including GS Retail, aren’t selling the usual Halloween goods and party treats.

Theme parks including Lotte World and Everland have decided not to hold any of their usual Halloween-related events this year, according to Yonhap News. Hotels which usually offer Halloween-themed desserts and packages are also avoiding such promotions.

Streets in central Seoul, including the Itaewon and Myeong-dong neighborhoods, have been devoid of the usual Halloween decorations with the city still mourning the tragedy which killed at least 158 people, many of them young. Most of the victims were trapped in a 3.2 meter-wide alley connecting Itaewon’s main street to an area with restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

Near the site of the tragedy in central Itaewon, one bar owner said business began improving this summer after customers avoided the area for months. But people still don’t want to talk about the incident, she said.

“People around here don’t like to talk about that day. But it still comes up from time to time,” she said, giving her name as N. Park. “It’s hard to guess how this Halloween will be. As many people are visiting Itaewon these days, I’m expecting decent number of guests this weekend.”

Seoul Metropolitan Police said it will implement crowd safety measures just in case there are large crowds.

“Police urge those visiting crowded venues during Halloween to be aware of traffic curfews, one-way streets and to cooperate with police in maintaining order and control to ensure a safe Halloween,” it said in a statement.

The crowd crush was the country’s worst disaster since the 2014 sinking of the Sewol Ferry, which killed 304 people. Families of the Itaewon victims are still holding vigils and calling for justice, and an investigation that concluded earlier this year found that police and other officials failed to control crowds.

--With assistance from Heejin Kim.

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