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Published: Saturday, 11/10/2001

Harry Potter's wave builds

BY REBEKAH SCOTT AND JON CHAVEZ
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

Grammar schools, libraries, stores, and theaters: They're wild about Harry Potter, the fictional 11-year-old magician-in-training.

English author J.K. Rowling's literary celebrity will be sealed Friday with the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, a $120 million movie patterned after the first volume in the ongoing series.

That said, here's everything you want to know about Harry Potter.

If Harry Potter were a real boy, someone would call the authorities.

After Harry's parents are murdered, he's raised by abusive relatives, forced to sleep in a cobwebby stairwell. He's then shipped off to Hogwarts, a boarding school populated by witches, wizards, and headless ghosts, where he learns he is the spirit-world's newest messiah figure. Then the evil starts.

Harry Potter is only pretend, but his story has enchanted readers since the first of his four-books-and-more-to-come series began in 1997. More than 116 million Potter books are in print.

“They're still on the bestseller list, and our sales are still steady,” said Chris Champion, spokesman for Thackeray's Books in the Westgate Village Shopping Center.

“These are big, thick chapter-books, a reading challenge,” said Amy Beem, the children's librarian at Rossford Library. “Sometimes it's hard to keep them on the shelves. We have kids as young as second grade checking them out. A lot of those kids are going to see the movie, I'm sure of that.”

The film opens Friday at 3,500 American theaters, its hype fanned by a star-studded London premiere and a Scottish opening night that ended with fans ransacking the theater for souvenirs.

American fans watch and wait, with wands in hand and wallets wide open.

They've broken advance sales records set in 1999 by Star Wars: Episode I, The Phantom Menace. Every seat for the Showcase Cinemas Maumee opening day is sold, except daytime matinees and a few slots at an 11:30 p.m. screening, according to movietickets.com, an online theater booking agent.

Local libraries and bookstores are scheduling Harry Potter pajama parties and reading sessions. Magician Dennis Weigel (a.k.a. “the Glass City Sorcerer”) is holding special Harry Potter magic shows at libraries in Perrysburg, Rossford, and downtown Toledo.

The Clay High School math teacher dons a wizard outfit and performs feats like those taught at Hogwarts, all the while weaving in a lesson on the medieval roots of modern science.

This was part of the Potter charm: for years, author Rowling let her creation grow organically, through bookstores, libraries, and schools. She resisted the crass call for cash offered by video spinoffs, action figures, and promotions at fast-food restaurants.

But somewhere among all the movie deals and the book-signing tours, a powerful force called AOL Time/Warner prevailed.

Now that Harry Potter is a movie star, he's plastered onto video games, boxer shorts, lunch boxes, coffee mugs, toy trains, mouse pads, Christmas ornaments, tattoos, and gift wraps, along with hippogriffs, boggarts, basilisks, owls, dragons, and lightning bolts. Lens Crafters, a spectacles store in Franklin Park Mall, started selling a line of Harry Potter frames last week, sized for small heads.

Always hoping for that one theme to carry Christmas sales, mass merchandisers are hoping Harry Potter-mania can cast a positive spell over holiday shoppers.

Everyone is jumping on the Hogwarts sales express. Big Lots, a traditional seller of close-out merchandise, is doing its first-ever sales of a “current” item: Potter T-shirts. Naturally they will be marked half-price.

Meanwhile, Target Stores plans to promote the boy wizard extensively.

“We have toys coming in. Right now we're pretty light, but with the release of the movie [we] will increase that,'' said Becky Bradner, a manager at Target's Monroe Street store.

Target will sell toys on a special Harry Potter aisle, use the young wizard to promote Coca-Cola collector's cups, give away Potter music CD samplers, and offer coupons for Potter video games. For those wishing to start at the beginning, it is beefing up its stock of Harry Potter books.

“I think we're well into Harry Potter mania right now,'' Ms. Bradner said. “Actually, we've had an aisle since August, and we're revising it now. The items on it have been increasing, and they're probably going to go even higher as time goes on. I think it's going to be a huge sales [category] for us.''

“My gut feeling is we're seeing more interest this year than last year, and the obvious reason is the movie, of course,'' said Toy Store owner Ben Savino, who has been selling Potter items for over a year.

However, not everything sells, he added. Some of the products are good, some are questionable.



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