Find Waldo Local Drives Foot Traffic to Indie Stores in July

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Candlewick Press, the American publisher of the iconic children’s series Where’s Waldo, and the American Booksellers Association are teaming with 265 independent bookstores across the country to bring fun and excitement to the shop local movement.

In July, bookstores and businesses will again be celebrating Find Waldo Local, a promotion that will encourage shoppers to search for Waldos hidden in local establishments around town to earn prizes for energetic sleuthing.

Candlewick has provided bookstores with a free kit containing Waldo standees and window clings for participating businesses, as well as prizes for seekers. An online toolbox is also stocked with customizable assets.

Judith Lafitte is very excited about Octavia Books’ participation in New Orleans’ Find Waldo Local. Lafitte, who owns the shop with her husband, saw a great turnout in 2012 and has high hopes for this year. Part of her planning included careful selection of the businesses she asked to partner with her in the promotion.

“I’m choosing locations that may not get foot traffic, because in the summer, July is the hardest month,” said Lafitte. “Kids are out of school, people are on vacation — July seems to be the month where people just scatter to the wind. Sales for some of these stores really take a nose dive.”

With 28 participating stores on four major streets, people will be traversing the city to find Waldo. Lafitte had no trouble getting stores on board again this year. “I’ve had a number of stores tell me that their sales went up last July,” she said.

Participating stores include “any number of food places, so that if you get hungry along the way, you can stop in and have a snack and look for Waldo there,” said Lafitte. Also participating are a bike shop, toy shop, and shoe store, and several businesses are coordinating in-store events to bring together Find Waldo Local and Independence Day.

Prizes for Waldo seekers run the gamut from gift certificates from participating stores and movie passes to a weekend pass for a free pet boarding at a kennel. “I go around and ask the stores if they will contribute to the prize giveaways, and they do. They’re pretty excited about doing that,” said Lafitte.

Marketing is underway for the event, with Octavia pairing with the New Orleans community-building organization Stay Local! to get the word out about supporting local shops. Octavia is also working to reel in some local celebrities for its July 31 wrap party.

Lafitte also enjoys the challenge of hiding Waldo around the store, noting that sometimes it’s just a brown shoe or the top of the hat you’ll see. Last year, a footwear shop stuffed him inside shoes on their racks and a bakery hid Waldo in a display of mugs. “People get very creative about where they hide him,” she said.

The river’s end bookstore in Oswego, New York, is coordinating a series of festivities leading up to the big blowout — a “Waldo-palooza” party on July 31, which will feature prizes, a costume contest, refreshments, entertainment, a Waldo trivia contest, and a possible appearance by Mayor Thomas Gillen.

Joining with 24 fellow independently owned establishments in downtown Oswego, co-owner Bill Reilly is very enthusiastic about this year’s events.

With 31 days to bring Waldo to Oswego, each participating store will be visited by an in-person Waldo (one of the bookstore’s staff members in costume) on a specific day. “We just want to have a day set aside for each of the retailers so we can focus on drawing customers to their store on that particular day,” said Reilly, who noted that he has asked each store to plan a unique promotion for their designated day.

A social media teaser campaign will drop hints about where Waldo will be appearing the following day to followers on Facebook and Twitter. Bookstore staff will also promote the event to customers throughout the month and at the store’s weekly story time.

Waldo will also be about town during the month, at the 4th of July parade, the marine museum, the bookmobile, and even at the Thursday night farmer’s markets.

Lilly Clark at The Second Story in Laramie, Wyoming, found this year’s planning to be very easy. All 20 of the businesses that participated last year have again signed up.

The success of last year’s event was astounding, said Clark. “People asked if we’d be doing it again before we even knew we’d be doing it again!”

The store’s wrap party on July 31 will feature Waldo treats and a raffling of prizes donated by participating local businesses.

The shops include a used bookstore, a bakery, a yarn store, a frame shop, a kitchen store, and an outdoor gear store. Clark noted that even without doing any special advertising, the businesses have spread the word to generate foot traffic and interest for the event.

“All of the businesses that had Waldo last year had notable increases in foot traffic. People who had never been here before came into town for it,” said Clark, who noted that last year’s event brought out both children and adults alike. “Everyone of all ages had a great time.”

Many of the businesses are using social media to get the word out, and Clark plans again to enlist the help of the local downtown business association, which actively supports the Laramie merchant community.

The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, North Carolina, is seeing immense support from Sustain-a-Bull, the region’s independent business organization, which is marketing the event alongside the 25 businesses and local library branches that are participating. “It’s going to be all over town,” said Regulator owner Tom Campbell.

At Regulator’s July 31 wrap party a grand prize winner will receive a $100 Visa Gift Card courtesy of Durham News, and additional prizes, including gift certificates and T-shirts, will be handed out to winners. “We’re getting donations of prizes from the local businesses that are involved,” said Campbell. Attendees will also enjoy music, arts, and crafts.

Having not participated last year, Campbell commented, “We’re making up for it this year.”

Booksellers who would like to provide photos of their Find Waldo Local events for future coverage are encouraged to e-mail them to Bookselling This Week