MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) _ Business is anything but flat for costume shops stocked with Christopher Columbus gear for Halloween.

''We are going absolutely crazy right now with Christopher Columbus,'' said Ken Fox of Magic Makers Costumes in Huntington. ''That carries over to your fancy parties for people to be King Ferdinand, Queen Isabella and Columbus. We anticipated that and got ready for it.''

Schools and organizations around Williamsport, Pa., have been renting Columbus-period costumes for weeks during this 500th anniversary of the explorer's voyage, said Barbara Drawbaugh of Watkins Costumes.

''We don't normally rent a lot of Columbus stuff,'' Drawbaugh said.

At Stages costumes in Wheeling, a mere $35 will rent a drab costume portraying Columbus as he might have appeared when he set foot in the New World.

''But that's not what they want. They want this glorified shiny gold, king- like Columbus because they want to look good rather than be authentic,'' said owner Dan Fincham.

In Columbus, Ga., anything related to the 15th century is hot for Halloween.

''We're in the throes of our celebration here in town and Christopher stays gone all the time,'' said Joanne Middlebrooks of the Springer Opera House Costume Shop. ''It's normal here for people to expect us to have those pieces and they rent heavily for that period.''

But in the Seattle suburb of Renton, Wash., Columbus-related gear has been moving slowly, said Bill Hale of Graight's Great Costumes.

''It's not as hot as we thought it would be,'' Hale said. ''I guess the movie didn't go over so good and people didn't get excited.''

In most stores across the country, costumes based on popular movies like ''Hook'' also are renting at a fast pace, retailers said.

''Hit movies have a big influence,'' Hale said. ''We always do a lot of pirates, but it's all Captain Hook now instead of the plain pirate.

''I think the most requested one so far is the Catwoman from 'Batman.' It changes. Whatever was hot last year, you have to wait another five years before that particular one gets hot again.''

But copyright laws get in the way of some characters. Stores can't rent costumes for characters such as Mickey Mouse or the Penguin from ''Batman Returns'' unless they pay big fees to the copyright holder.

''I have a Batman and a Catwoman but they're not exactly like the movie,'' said Lola Beaver, owner of the Costume Studio in Washington, D.C. ''I just don't want to get sued.''

Mainstays like Elvis Presley, Scarlett O'Hara, witches and fantasy characters continue to be popular.

''Most people over 20 years old are interested in being glamorous and sexy,'' Beaver said. ''It's the kids that want the horror mask and Ninja Turtles and all that stuff.''