Potter Plans Percolating Aplenty

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The Harry Potter phenomenon continues as booksellers use their experience with the previous books in the series to prepare for the release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Scholastic) on July 16. Innovative ideas sprout up every day, like so many Abyssinian shrivelfigs.

Although past Harry Potter book releases have drawn astounding crowds, this time bookstores are expecting even greater turnouts, and they are planning accordingly. Many stores have used Potter parties to involve other community organizations, such as hospitals, colleges, libraries, and increasingly, other local businesses. A number of booksellers who are leaders in downtown business associations have found these events to be excellent opportunities for downtown areas to mobilize.

Major downtown transformations into Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, and all points in between, are taking place in Hudson, Ohio, home of The Learned Owl Book Shop; Wilmington, Ohio, home of Books 'N' More; Falmouth, Massachusetts, home of Eight Cousins; and Naperville, Illinois, home of Anderson's Bookshop.

Diagon Alley under construction in Wilmington, Ohio.

Rumors of a rare unicorn making an appearance.

"Hudson will once again turn into Harry's World on the night of July 15," noted Liz Murphy of the Learned Owl. Main Street will again be Diagon Alley, but new this year are more than 30 businesses just behind Main Street that will become part of Hogsmeade. Restaurants are offering souvenir menus, contests will send kids all over town, and the public library will become the Hogwarts Dining Hall. Over 60 businesses are now involved, said Murphy. "Last time, 5,000 people came to Hudson. We're not quite sure what to expect this year."

Residents are cautioned to cross Main Street with care at midnight, July 15, in Wilmington, Ohio: Rumors are spreading about a real unicorn making a rare appearance. Fortunately, the city of Wilmington has offered to close Main Street from 5:00 p.m. until after midnight for the large event sponsored by Books 'N' More. Dozens of businesses and organizations are participating, and two hotels are taking overnight reservations for the party. One, the General Denver Hotel, will become Hogwarts East/Wilmington Branch, site of sorting into houses and the start-of-the-term banquet. The Glen Helen Raptor Center will provide owl demonstrations, and a Dwarf Winged Horse will be available to give children earthbound rides.

Carol Chittenden of Eight Cousins, located in the traditional New England village of Falmouth, Massachusetts, told BTW that all her fellow merchants on the two-block downtown shopping strip have been invited to join in the project to turn the streets into Diagon Alley from noon to midnight on July 15. "We've gotten a good response so far," said Chittenden. "We're encouraging other businesses to have special offers for shoppers dressed as witches, wizards, Hogwarts students, and magical creatures, and to offer special merchandise or describe merchandise or services in terms of its 'magical' properties." Short of a full-scale transformation, Chittenden suggests that storeowners wear costumes and offer small handouts. Some examples are changing a massage therapist to "Madame Pomfrey's Healing Arts" or the pharmacy to "Defense Against the Dark Arts."

The Downtown Naperville Alliance (DNA) is rallying behind a Harry Potter party planned for July 15, according to the alliance's head of marketing, Becky Anderson -- who also happens to be co-owner of Anderson's Bookshops in Naperville and Downers Grove. Both communities will have similar parties, although the Naperville program is somewhat bigger.

"The carillon will play a special Harry Potter concert with bells at midnight," Anderson told BTW. "We'll be showing movies on huge outdoor screens, have a big stage with Irish and Scottish dancers. We have over 30 participating merchants, the local media, a college, and the hospital. We're expecting a really big crowd -- [we had] 5,000 people last time, and we're expecting more. People will line up for the book, and we'll give them each a special bag full of handouts from a variety of publishers with information about other great fantasy books."

Russ Lawrence, co-owner of Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, Montana, will be selling books at midnight in this small town of 5,000 people. How impressive, then, that for the last release party, nearly five percent of the population showed up. "Last time we expected maybe 40 or 50 people, and we got 200, so who knows how many will come this time," he said.

Lawrence and his wife, store co-owner Jean Matthews, have involved the community in Potter celebrations in a different way. "We are encouraging people to pre-order their copies [of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince] by offering to donate $6 per prepaid order to the school library of their choice in our marketing area," said Lawrence. "We sell the book at full price, but donate the six bucks. We have provided all the local librarians with order slips, promoted the deal at book fairs and in school bulletins, and we mention it at every reading as one of our upcoming events."

Some images from last year's Harry Potter release party at BookPeople in Austin, Texas.

Everything is big in Texas, including the parking lot of BookPeople in Austin. The space is ample for the 1,500 to 2,000 people who will likely show up for games, spell stations, magicians, fire dancers, and a replica of Platform 9 and 3/4. Several local businesses are involved, including Amy's Ice Cream, transformed for the night into Honeydukes of Hogsmeade, and the Alamo Drafthouse, an independent movie theater, that is offering a surprise at midnight, according to Amarin Enyart, BookPeople's kids events coordinator.

"People will be given vouchers for the book, then they can line up and watch the entertainment while they wait. The party will start at 9:00 p.m. and end when the last book has been handed out," Enyart told BTW.

Some booksellers have plans to burn the candle at the other end -- starting Harry Potter programming by the dawn's early light. Vroman's Bookstore of Pasadena, California, is holding a morning party for the hour prior to the store's opening on Saturday, according to Nicole White, children's book buyer. People are invited to come in costume for games, giveaways, and an introduction to the audio book; butterbeer will be served with and without caffeine.

Classes will begin at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, July 16, at Square Books, Jr. in Oxford, Mississippi. The WIT Program -- Wizards in Training -- will include a scavenger hunt, trivia contests, and Wizard Shoppe/fun house. Attendees will be rewarded with a 20 percent discount off their Potter purchase. "During our last event," said Katie Snodgrass of Square Books, "one mother described the thrill of the Potter release parties. She said, 'I've only seen the children spring out of bed with this wild excitement in their eyes one other time -- Christmas morning.'" --Nomi Schwartz

Watch for continuing BTW coverage of Harry Potter events. Let us know about your plans by sending an e-mail to Karen@bookweb.org.