Harry Days Are Here Again

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When Scholastic's Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the penultimate book in J.K. Rowlings' series, materializes in stores on July 16, no frog, owl, broom, or jellybean will be safe. The eve of the laydown dates of the previous Potter books has been magical for many independent bookstores. In communities large and small, the late-night celebrations have opened the floodgates for the creative spirits of booksellers and increased public awareness about the value of imaginative, independent, local businesses.

With several previous midnight release parties under their belts, booksellers are seeking out, or being sought by, other businesses and organizations that wish to partner for the events. Several downtown shopping areas are creating their own Hogwarts and Diagon Alley.

Among the towns planning community-wide celebrations are Williamston, Michigan, and Emporia, Kansas. In Williamston, a town of 5,500 people located 15 minutes from Lansing, the state capital, Tuesday Books is planning an ambitious evening of games, food, classes, and contests. According to co-owner Beth Phelps, the year-old store fortuitously can use some of the facilities of the annual Williamstown Art Fest, which is taking place in a local park on July 16.

Phelps told BTW that the Fest organizers graciously donated full use of the tenting, sound equipment, lights, and tables for the planned feasting, Quidditch games, Herbalogy and Potions classes, and trivia contest. Downtown businesses are all eager to become Potter-friendly for the night -- the cafe will become the Leaky Cauldron, a second floor bed and breakfast will be Madame Trelawney's attic, and Tuesday Books (aka Flourish & Blotts) will send kids from place to place via a Marauder's Map. "We'll close up until midnight," Phelps said, "so the other stores get some business, then we'll distribute the books at 12:01 a.m."

The Town Crier Bookstore in Emporia, a larger small town with a population of 28,000, is in the midst of planning a town-wide block party involving the public library, arts center, museum, zoo, recreation center, university, public transportation, and the downtown business association. Numerous shops will participate including the local sweet-shop, where customers can shop for all of their chocolate frog and cricket needs. A local band will also perform.

"For the last Harry Potter book," said Becky Smith of the Town Crier, "we had a 'small' party of 300 people. Now we are moving outside and blocking off the street, which is actually a state highway. We have a Diagon Alley planned with lots of exciting things for the kids and their parents to do. We have Hogwarts banners ready, and our brick-and-mortar store will become the Ministry of Magic."

The Country Bookshop in Southern Pine, North Carolina, will also hold a party on Friday evening in the store. Activities are still in the planning stages, said Angie Tally via e-mail, but confirmed are visits from Professor Sprout, mandrake planting, fortune telling by Madame Trelawney, and a "pet" frog-jumping contest. Trivia contests and a scavenger hunt are also scheduled to occupy patrons from 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.

Connie Geverink, owner of Chesterfield Books in Chesterfield, Michigan, told BTW that a party, complete with wand-making, tattooing, and related games and activities, will be held at the store that Friday evening until the books can be distributed.

That Bookstore in Blytheville has an unusual event planned, along with some unusual partners. According to owner Mary Gay Shipley, the store along with the local Red Cross and the First United Methodist Church are hosting a Harry Potter "Lock In," beginning July 15 at 7:00 p.m. and ending on July 16 at about 8:00 a.m.

The "Lock In," a fundraiser for the Red Cross, will be held at the Church, beginning with dinner in the fellowship hall, followed by a sorting ceremony. Each "house" has a room in which its members will bed down. Movies, games, and activities will ensue until midnight when the books will be distributed.

"After that, I don't think we'll need to entertain them," Shipley told BTW. "They are all supposed to bring flashlights, and they can sleep or read until we give them breakfast at 8:00 a.m.. Some other Methodist churches in the area are talking about bussing groups in -- if they do that, we'd like to figure out a way they could stop by the store. We do want to build in an opportunity for them to spend some time here, too." --Nomi Schwartz

Does your store have something special planned for the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? We would like to hear from you. Please send an e-mail to Karen@bookweb.org.