Harry Potter fever hits local bookstores

By KATHY DAY

Herald Writer

For local booksellers, Saturday will be a lot like Harry Potter – "as a matter of fact … not normal as it is possible to be."

At 12:01 a.m., when the latest Potter book by J.K. Rowling officially hits the shelves, it punctuates a phenomenon that has kept local booksellers’ phones ringing and doors swinging for weeks.

It’s been such a big deal at Amazon.com that the online company is giving regular updates on the number of pre-orders for the 752-page "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." At stores throughout Snohomish and Island counties, managers are staffing up and bracing for costume parties and crowds.

Unofficially, the fourth installment in the series about the adventurous orphan who attends Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been in stores for a couple of days – under lock and key, said Maureen Wheelborg, assistant manager at Lynnwood’s Barnes &amp Noble. More than 500 people have pre-ordered the latest tale of Harry Potter at her store.

At Amazon.com, as of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, 327,153 orders had been placed at a 40 percent discount to the list price of $25.95. That’s up from 315,671 on Wednesday at the same time.

Barry Hildebrandt, who owns the Edmonds Bookshop with his wife Susan, has the boxes of his 150-book order taped shut as publisher Scholastic has directed and will keep them that way until Saturday. Although he’d taken orders for 127 by midweek, he’s planning for business as usual Saturday with a 9 a.m. opening because, as he put it, "This is Edmonds."

Mary Burns of The Bookworks in Marysville, said she has received pre-orders for her first 50 books and will get another 30 and additional audiobooks today.

"If I didn’t have Harry Potters I wouldn’t even open. I’d be lynched," she said..

"I’ve never seen anything like this," Burns said, adding that she can’t keep the audiotapes of the first three Harry Potter books on her shelves.

Author Rowling, who in 1995 began plotting what she says will be a seven-book series, has attracted fans who are reading about Harry in 40 languages.

Harry "is a lonely boy who’s rescued from a wretched existence," said Diane Roback, children’s books editor at Publishers Weekly. "He goes to this boarding school where he has these magical powers, and he’s treated like a hero. He goes from rags to riches, and that’s really appealing to kids."

It seems, too, that a lot of older folks can relate, since Burns and others say buyers include adults buying for themselves.

At Stanwood’s Snow Goose Bookstore, co-proprietor Kristine Kaufman also had to order a second batch of books. She said it’s the largest presale she’s seen.

Topping off the craziness at Snow Goose is that Harry Potter day is also Stanwood’s street fair day, so Kaufman is holding festivities to a minimum. "We’ll have cookies and punch, but I think everyone’s going to want to go home and start reading," she said.

Laurie Williams, who has managed Monroe’s Totem Book Shop for the past six years, has pre-sold half of her 100 books.

Despite the heavy volume inspired by those who want to learn about the latest adventures of Harry and his pals, Williams said it’s not likely the store will gain much in the long run from the rush to buy the book, which has brought her some exposure and "maybe a few new customers."

Mostly, it’s regular customers who are buying, she added.

Burns, whose store in Marysville has felt the impact of chains such as Barnes &amp Noble, also said that while Harry Potter has brought a few new customers, it probably hasn’t brought a great deal of new business. And it hasn’t helped her fight a battle against the "big-box" discount retailers that many small booksellers around the country are losing.

"A lot of people say they don’t want me to close my doors. … Some come in and ask about a book and then tell me they’ll buy it online. That doesn’t hurt my business; it hurts my feelings," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

You can call Herald Writer Kathy Day at 425-339-3453

or send e-mail to

kday@heraldnet.com.

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