Miami Beach

Decorations, costumes, $500 in candy: Halloween in Miami Beach’s top trick-or-treat spot

In Miami Beach’s Lakeview neighborhood, residents prepare for Halloween as if they were preparing for a hurricane. They stock up on provisions, buy cases of bottled water, and prepare to hunker down in their homes for hours.

The torrent begins before sundown as hundreds — possibly as many as a thousand — children descend on the neighborhood, a sea of tiny witches, monsters and ghosts filling the streets and stampeding across lawns in a frantic quest for candy. Some residents meet the deluge outside their homes with giant bags of candy; otherwise, the doorbell never stops ringing.

“You literally can’t see the floor in this entire intersection,” said Jorge Clavijo, standing in the doorway of his Lakeview home on Monday evening as he pointed to the intersection of Cherokee Avenue and West 50th Street. “You look that way and you can’t see the street or the grass.” Clavijo estimates that between 500 and 1,000 trick-or-treaters came through the neighborhood last year.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Ben Mostkoff, who has watched Lakeview’s popularity as a Halloween destination grow in the 35 years he’s lived in the neighborhood. “It’s like going into Disney World when the doors open.” Some of the trick-or-treaters, he said, come from as far away as Broward County.

Lakeview has become such a popular trick-or-treating spot that the Miami Beach Police Department has to plan for the neighborhood’s Halloween festivities as if they were a major event. This year for the first time, police are closing off the neighborhood to cars between Alton Road, 51st Street and Lakeview Drive from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Police will patrol the streets and neighborhood entrances while parking enforcement officers direct traffic at nearby intersections. Anyone who has to leave their home in a car during peak trick-or-treating hours will have to request a police escort.

Phillip Gonzalez, 6, holds a bag of candy at his house in Lakeview on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. His mother bought 12 bags of candy but said it likely won’t be enough for all of the trick-or-treaters. Alexia Fodere For The Miami Herald

But while the police may be prepared for trick-or-treaters, residents know that no matter how much candy they buy it will never be enough.

At a house decorated with dinosaur skeletons and an inflatable dragon, 6-year-old Phillip Gonzalez held up a 5 3/4-pound bag of candy that was nearly as tall as he was. His mom, Monica Gonzalez, said she’d bought a dozen of these bags — as many as her Costco shopping cart would hold — and that her mother planned to bring another three or four. Still, she knew from past experience that she’d likely run out.

“We’re empty every year,” she said, standing in the doorway beneath black fabric draped over the porch like cobwebs. “By 8 o’clock it’s gone.”

Down the road, near the edge of Surprise Lake, Julie Bercow had packed her pantry with 25 bags of chocolate bars and lollipops.

“I spent $500 on candy and I can tell you that it will not be enough,” Bercow said.

But she wasn’t complaining. Her mother, Lynn Russin, had been the one to put Lakeview on the map for trick-or-treaters.

Rachel Poses, Lily Poses, 10, and Eric Poses at their home in Lakeview, a neighborhood well known for its Halloween celebration, on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. Alexia Fodere For The Miami Herald

It all started because Russin, a Halloween enthusiast, wanted to entice her children and grandchildren to spend the holiday at her home in Lakeview. (At the time, Bercow didn’t live in the neighborhood.) So sometime in the 1990s, Russin opened up her home to the entire neighborhood with a feast of pizza, cold cuts, deviled eggs and cookies. While children roamed the streets, parents could enjoy a less sugary meal. “Really it was a way to get her kids to stick around,” Bercow recalled.

Soon, other neighbors began to offer food. One family handed out shaved ice; another hosted a barbecue and passed out hotdogs. By the time Russin passed away, in 2008, Halloween in Lakeview had grown to “enormous” proportions, Bercow said.

“She started it all. Now we’re ready to kill her,” Bercow joked.

When Mostkoff’s son Noah — now 34 — was growing up in the neighborhood, the streets weren’t as crowded on Halloween, but there was still an abundance of sweets.

“I remember it being an amazing opportunity to get a ridiculous amount of candy,” he recalled. Noah and his sisters typically ended up with 10 to 15 pounds of candy each. (Now, Mostkoff visits his parents on Halloween and stands on the wall in front of their house, statue-still, holding a chainsaw with no chain. As trick-or-treaters approach, he revs up the chainsaw, eliciting shrieks.)

On Halloween, Noah Mostkoff stands on the wall in front of his parents’ house holding a chainsaw with no chain. Ariella Mostkoff

That’s not to say that everyone relishes Halloween in Lakeview. Some neighbors have grumbled about traffic and visitors parking on the swales, which is part of the reason the city is closing the area to cars this year.

The street closures could cause new problems, however, said Shannon Koonin. Like many of her neighbors, Koonin hosts family and friends from other neighborhoods on Halloween night. She’s concerned that although the younger kids will tire of trick-or-treating by 7 p.m., her guests will be stuck in Lakeview until 8:30 p.m. when the streets reopen. Miami Beach has encouraged visitors to take ride shares, but that’s not always easy with young kids who need a car seat, Koonin pointed out. “But we’re hopeful it will all work out,” she said, adding that her family loves celebrating Halloween in Lakeview.

“We put our decorations up October 1. We take Halloween very seriously,” she said. “As long as it’s safe it’s an awesome holiday.”

So awesome, in fact, that it’s even attracted homebuyers. At least, that was Clavijo’s experience.

The Miami Beach native decided to move to Lakeview 20 years ago after he and his wife took their family trick-or-treating in the area.

“That’s how we fell in love with the neighborhood,” Clavijo recalled. “I love the fact that this is a great Halloween spot.”

Ben Mostkoff at his house in Lakeview, a Miami Beach neighborhood known for its Halloween celebration, on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. Alexia Fodere For The Miami Herald

Lakeview isn’t the only Halloween hotspot. Miami Beach officials expect that 50,000 residents and visitors will go to Lincoln Road on Wednesday and plan to close cross streets from 2 p.m. to 3 a.m.

In Coral Gables, police plan to close Palermo Avenue between the 600 and 700 blocks and Santa Maria Street and limit access to Cocoplum, said Officer Kelly Denham, a spokeswoman for the police department. Trick-or-treaters also flock to Miracle Mile.

Near South Miami, the High Pines neighborhood (between Southwest 72nd Street and 80th Street) is another popular spot.

In Miami Springs, trick-or-treaters congregate near the Curtiss Parkway. In Kendall, one popular spot is the Hampshire Homes neighborhood on 117th Avenue.

Further east, in Miami Shores, the area east of Biscayne Boulevard off Northeast 96th Street attracts a lot of trick-or-treaters. The Bayside neighborhood east of Biscayne between Northeast 69th and 72nd Streets is another favorite.