Harry Potter Parties Delight Fans and Booksellers

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Now that hundreds of thousands of cartons of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince have been opened, all previous publication-day sales records have been topped, and booksellers have picked the last Bertie Botts jellybean out of their carpets and hung up their sorting hats, many yearn for a few months off. But life goes on as evidenced by the notice on the website of Anderson's Bookshops in Illinois on Monday, July 18: "Now that you've finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, it's time to pre-order your copy of Eldest by Christopher Paolini."

This year, chain bookstores and big box retailers followed the lead of independent booksellers, who once again organized midnight release events for the highly anticipated sixth book in the J.K. Rowling series. Since the title was widely available at discounted prices in stores and online, most independent booksellers worked to add value to the purchase of the book in other ways. A number of stores included gift certificates for future purchases or added coupons or giveaways from participating local businesses. Carol Chittenden of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Massachusetts, whose large celebration included a few dozen local businesses, said her goal was "to have people feel that this Main Street district is a very special place. So you [could have bought the book elsewhere] and saved five bucks? That five bucks bought you a whole evening for your family with unusual and exciting entertainment."

Some advanced planning by Partners/West Distributors and the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA) earned "numerous kudos and incalculable goodwill and additional profit for Bay Area stores," according to the regional's executive director, Hut Landon. Partners/West had provided NCIBA with extra copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to be made available to any member store with a Partners/West account. Landon told BTW, "All the books were gone by the Tuesday[July 19] at 11:00 a.m. Partners had actually gotten hold of more copies due to a store getting double-shipped, so we ended up with 1,970 copies -- all of them now gone. We had 21 bookstores pick up books; three of them returned twice, and one returned three times."

The release of Book 6 was front-page news around the country, and many articles featured the colorful, varied events at local bookstores. In Corvallis, Oregon, the Corvallis Gazette-Times covered the giant event hosted by Grass Roots Books & Music at the Odd Fellows Hall. Costumed children were interviewed, many of whom had no memory of the first midnight party held by Grass Roots in July of 2000 for the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Scott Foley of Grass Roots told BTW that in 2000 the store had prepared for a maximum of 100 children and received an estimated 1,000. The event continued to grow for Book 5 -- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and this time the numbers were even greater: "Roughly 50 percent more prepaid orders were placed, twice as many books were sold at the event itself, and Saturday morning brought dozens more eager purchasers. The prevailing sentiment throughout the evening was one of a strongly knit community."

Liz Murphy, owner of the Learned Owl Bookstore in Hudson, Ohio, reported a record-breaking crowd of 10,000, just under half the total town's population. Murphy told BTW that the event, named Harry Potter Extravaganza #2, involved about 75 local businesses that transformed themselves for the evening into stores such as the Azkaban Prison Gift Shop, the Hall of Magical Moving Pictures, and Flourish & Blotts -- The Learned Owl itself.

The Blue Heron bookstore in Peninsula, Ohio, just over a year old, hosted its first Harry Potter party, the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted. Owner Debbie D'Andrea continued the festivities well into the weekend, with awards for costumes, artwork, bike decoration; train rides on the Wizard Express (the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad); and Muggle-friendly Quidditch.

Eight Cousins' Chittenden told BTW that after convincing dozens of merchants on Falmouth's Main Street to create a Diagon Alley, she had worried that she'd have hundreds of books left over and many discontented business owners. Instead, she sold out of the book, and about 2,500 people showed up for the festivities -- about a third of them in costume.

Chittenden explained: "From mid-afternoon on, they came and went and came back and did a little treasure hunt that took them to all 30 businesses, and shopped a bit, got ice cream, had their fortunes told, listened to a garage band ..., watched a bit of magic, met Hagrid, got balloon hats from the balloon man whose Sorting Hat (activated by a tape player in his pocket) announced their magical designs, bought a Butter Beer at the pub, admired one another's costumes, and strolled and talked with friends. Somehow ... that was enough to string hundreds of them on till 11:00 p.m., when the line started to form." A new Italian restaurant across the street from the store "sent over five boxes of pizza at 11:40 p.m., creating such good magic," she said. At 1:45 a.m., she even sold one last copy on her way to her car to a distraught mother who had fallen asleep along with her young child and missed the party.

The Book House in St. Louis, Missouri, held a Harry Potter party in its 1865 building, a former Victorian house. "We had several hundred people, inside and out," said storeowner Michelle Barron. "[The house] lends itself to this kind of event. We had vendors, Girl Scouts selling refreshments, wall-to-wall people, and at 8:30 p.m. the St. Louis Bird Reservation brought four real owls. We gave out gift certificates as prizes for trivia contests and charged full price for the book but gave a $10 gift certificate with it. The most fun was at midnight, when the magician made the books appear under a cloud of smoke."

The Care of Magical Creatures exam at DDG Booksellers, in which students placed their hand into cloth covered tubs, and were asked to name which food for which magical creatures they were feeling.

Many booksellers received help running games and activities from family members, friends of the store, and elves of all kinds. At Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers of Farmington, Maine, much help came from members of the store's reading groups, along with assistant manager Melanie Coombs, according to owner Kenny Brechner.

"We go all out," Brechner said. "Our Harry Potter 6 party opened theatrically with Melanie riding up on a long pink bicycle with a streaming pink gown and cape, casting a spell upon the door. Two house elves skittered out and took her bike. Two other house elves then appeared carrying an eight-foot-long basilisk cake, made by Melanie. Party-goers then received Sixth Year O.W.L. report cards and proceeded to stations featuring examinations in Arithmancy, Care of Magical Creatures, Muggle Studies, and Potions. Attendees were also able to join S.P.E.W. and get badges. We easily had 200 people here."

Fantastic and magical events took place at Eagle Harbor Book Company on Bainbridge Island in Washington, with the help of many volunteers. According to Mary Gleysteen, advance coordinator for the store, the evening began at a local park where the Bainbridge Downtown Association scheduled an outdoor showing of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to an audience of 500.

"Just as the film began," Gleysteen told BTW, "the rain stopped. Right after the movie we opened up the Hogwarts Express Tickets Agency, which was a way to divide up the kids into manageable groups and provide adult escorts to the store. The local fabric store created a dark, spidery Diagon Alley. At 11:45 p.m., as people were lined up, we offered the first 25 people in line a special treat. They were allowed to come inside early and were given books wrapped in gold by Professor Dumbledore -- played by British writer Colin Bull. By the time I got back to the store from the park, a little past midnight, a lot of people already had their books. We distributed 600 books in 38 minutes. The atmosphere wasn't frantic at all. It was a lovely, mellow scene." Local groups including a bank, a construction company, a school's costume department, and church choir, all participated with donations.

For Leaves of Grass Bookstore in rural Willits, California, a town of 5,000, the midnight event attracted over 100 people, who happily engaged in trivia contests and raffles, said owner Rani Saija.

At Fact & Fiction in Missoula, Montana, owner Barbara Theroux noted that six other midnight parties were scheduled at area bookstores and planned accordingly. "I decided to keep it simple," she explained. "People want to be part of a celebration, get the book, then go home and start reading. It took me more time to mop up the store afterward than to sell 100 copies of the book. People lined up by our alley entrance and counted down to midnight along with the Montana Public Radio station. I now see why big stores have people who just do events."

Booksellers everywhere marveled at all the attention paid to a book. Ellen Shapiro, owner of the Golden Notebook in Woodstock, New York, noted, "The real treat is how wonderful it is to be on this end of a major media event."

Shapiro combined the release celebration with an anniversary party for the store. This started two years ago when Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released on the store's actual 25th anniversary. This year, the store held a "25 percent off everything" sale from 9:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. on Friday, July 15.

"I wanted a special way to celebrate and thank customers," said Shapiro. "Hundreds of people crowded into every corner of the store and into a tent set up outside. We raffled off two tickets to London." She said that the sale "sold lots of books and provided good cash flow. Kids buy the book then go outside and start reading it. It's really something."

The sales embargo came last in the U.S. in Hawaii, where midnight came six hours later than on the East Coast. Bestsellers Hawaii, in Honolulu and other locations, held its party at the Koko Marina Center. According to owner Brian Melzack, the event featured "tattoos and all the support stuff that Scholastic gave out. At our small hotel store at the Hilton Hawaiian in Waikiki, we sold one book every 53 seconds. Our airport store sold one every two minutes. I have to credit Scholastic with creating a group of readers. Hats off to them. On TV there were seven-year-olds talking about their need to read Book 6 immediately. That's just great." --Nomi Schwartz

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