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'We're devastated' | Soulard haunted house breaks tradition because of COVID-19

Bill Shelton wanted to create a safe place for area kids to spend Halloween but says crowds during the coronavirus pandemic are anything but safe.

ST. LOUIS — Bill Shelton sits outside his Soulard home, which is uncharacteristically bare in the run-up to Halloween.

"We're devastated," Shelton said about the decision not to open his home as a haunted house to kids on Halloween. "We look forward to this every year. We have gone over the top every year since 1997."

Every year he transforms his home, putting hundreds of manhours and thousands of dollars into the effort.

"We have had a zombie [themed] house. We turned the house into a funeral home one year. Our neighbor showed up as a priest even," Shelton said.

But this year, something even scarier: COVID-19. Shelton says he opened his home -- organizing his neighbors -- to give kids a safe place to trick-or-treat, but combining crowds with coronavirus means he can't guarantee safety anymore.

"To give you an idea, we had 1,200 people come through the house two years ago. We had people coming through the door every six seconds. And they were lining up at one point four abreast for a block and a half to get into the house," he said.

RELATED: 'Halloween is not canceled this year' | St. Louis releases safety guidance amid pandemic

Jurisdictions have released their guidance and recommendations on how to safely celebrate the holiday.

"We’re not recommending traditional trick or treating," St. Louis County Health Department's Chris Ave said. "We don’t want lots of people digging their hands in any type of container of candy."

RELATED: St. Louis, St. Charles counties release Halloween safety tips

Experts are advocating for a Halloween with social distancing, and Shelton agrees.

"At the end of the day, if one kid or one family member came down with COVID-19, the entire neighborhood would just be devastated," he said, adding they will continue to give out full-sized Hershey bars while they look ahead to Halloween 2021.

"We have to double down next year," he said. "Every year you try to top yourself -- which is not always easy -- but that's part of the deal."