Ashlanders are busy making last-minute preparations before spooking up another year's worth of Halloween fun at this year's annual parade and Plaza celebration.

Ashlanders are busy making last-minute preparations before spooking up another year's worth of Halloween fun at this year's annual parade and Plaza celebration.

Halloween-geared events begin today and will continue through Monday in Ashland, when as many as 6,000 people are expected to march through a section of closed-off downtown in the children's Halloween parade, said Katharine Flanagan, marketing director for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the parade.

It's either going to be a scarf-clad gypsy or a female Zorro costume for Paula Nelson, 55, of Ashland, who dresses up every year for the occasion.

"It's so much fun to just walk back and forth in the street looking at the costumes," she said. "People get a chance to live a little bit more on the wild side. It's like a carnival."

Nelson, like thousands of other local Halloween heads, is making time to sift through the costume selections at Ashland's long-standing Renaissance Rose during these final days leading up to All Hollow's Eve.

"I'm maybe leaning a little bit more toward Zorro," she said, examining a mask she selected for the potential guise. "I just have so many other costumes and stuff to choose from, I could make an awesome gypsy."

Nelson said she never fails to pay a visit to Renaissance Rose before making her final selection each year. Sometimes the idea hits her while perusing the store.

"And they have so much more stuff now. I've never seen it like this," she said.

A little over a year ago, former owner Nora Silverman announced that she planned to close the store if a buyer didn't step forward to take it off her hands. Someone did — Ann Wilton, 56, of Ashland, and since then, she has put most of her energy into bolstering costume inventory.

"We have about 30,000 items of inventory right now," she said, "and about half of that is costumes."

Wilton, who took over Oct. 13 last year, said business is booming, and to accommodate its annual swell of customers around Halloween, the store has hired 26 employees. Usually there are about 13 on staff, she said.

For the holiday, the store is decked out both upstairs and downstairs with costume selections, but will return to offering costumes and costume rentals on the bottom floor only after October, she said.

Nelson said most people don't leave disappointed when they come in with an idea for an outfit.

"There really haven't been very many times where I said, 'no we don't have that,' " she said. "People come up with some wacky ideas too."

She said some of the most popular costumes this year in Ashland are pirates and Pocahontas.

The Renaissance Rose is sponsoring a costume contest Halloween day on the Plaza, scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m., after the children's Parade makes its way down East Main Street from the Ashland Public Library.

Three anonymous judges will be wandering throughout the parade handing out special tickets to 18 finalist for the contest, said Nelson. Those 18 will be asked to meet at the Plaza for final rulings.

There will be three finalists in six categories, said Nelson: under five years old, elementary school students, middle school students, high school students; and two categories open to adults — most creative and best group, which requires at least two people.

All of the finalist will get some sort of an award, said Nelson, and the winners will receive a $20 gift certificate to the Renaissance Rose. The top costumes will be selected by the crowd, she said, based on the amount of cheering.

"We hope to make it an annual event," said Nelson. "It's so much fun to be a part of this energy."

The Renaissance Rose, she said, will be packed until Halloween, and then slowly settle back down to its normal pace of business.

Paul and Katie Becker, of Ashland, also turned to the store for their Halloween costumes this year.

"Tell me what do you think honey?" yelled Paul Becker, from inside a dressing room on the bottom floor of the store.

Swinging the door open, and stepping out in cut-off candy-striped pants and a puffy, white pirate shirt.

"Oh, it looks great," said his wife, Katie Becker, clinching her own selection of pirate regalia.

"We dress up pretty much every year," she said. "We'll definitely be downtown. Halloween is always a great time in Ashland."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.