Comedy items such as whoopee cushions cease to exist since the advent of video games
For sales of old-style stink bombs, whoopee cushions, plastic dog mess, and itching powder are plummeting in a gloomy downturn which is forcing fancy novelty shops to close or move their business online.
The latest research shows that it is no laughing matter in 2017 – with the widespread fascination with computer games being blamed for the demise of traditional joke shops that have been a magnet for generations of fun-loving youngsters in High Streets countrywide for decades.
Growing numbers of joke and fancy dress shops have now fallen victim to changing social attitudes and health and safety rules.
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On Saturdays we would be packed with boys buying jokes to try out on their school friends but they don't come in any more
Kevin Rose, the co-owner of the Laughing Stock in Witney, Oxfordshire, which is closing next month after 15 years, says that traditional pranks like whoopee cushions, fake blood and stink bombs have been replaced by games consoles.
He said: “On Saturdays we would be packed with boys buying jokes to try out on their school friends but they don't come in any more. Instead they are playing computer games on their mobile phones.
“We used to sell lots of fake blood and Rambo-style guns. But now all the plastic guns have to be painted blue in case they look too much like the real thing.
“I can understand the reasons but it spoiled the look because you couldn't go out looking like a soldier or a gangster.” Mr Rose, whose shop will become an online-only fancy dress business, also blamed competition from supermarkets for falling sales.
Laughing Stock in Witney, Oxfordshire, which is closing next month after 15 years
He said: “Supermarkets have really bashed us. They would never touch fancy dress but now they have whole aisles of the stuff.”
His business partner, Colin Brown, says the former parliamentary seat of ex-Prime Minister David Cameron had had lost its “party town” status after most of its nightclubs and bars closed.
He added: “Witney is not as fun as it used to be. Dressing up and going to pubs is something that just isn't happening anymore. It was a party town and we have always thrived on that but it's definitely more conservative now.”
Other party shops are suffering a similar dismal fate. The Top Hat in Norwich, which sells fancy outfits, party wigs and scary masks, is closing after more than 30 years due to a collapse in Halloween sales.
Kirstie Pope, who runs the shop with her sister Nicky Wigger, said: “In this kind of business we rely on Halloween as it can keep us going for the rest of the year.
Other party shops are suffering from a dismal fate
“The supermarkets were stacked out with Halloween costumes so if everyone steals a little bit of our market there is just not enough.“ In Bristol, Fancy Dress Fanatics, which opened in 2013, is to become an online-only business after shutting last month.
Owner Fran Minifie said: “It's really breaking our hearts to close the shop down. A huge amount of people now buy online instead of on the high street, and we definitely see this as the case in our shop too.“
But, defying the downward trend, the party is not yet over for the family-run Joke Shop in Margate, Kent.
Tam Robb-John, whose grandmother started the shop in 1978, said: “We are one of the last ones standing partly because we are on the seafront and everyone is flocking to the seaside these days.
“People still come in and ask for the same things – whoopee cushions and cap guns – but it's more retro.”
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