Starting this weekend, children across the country will be on a month-long scavenger hunt to look for the skinny, bespectacled children’s book character in a red-and-white shirt at local businesses as part of a celebration of Where’s Waldo? (Candlewick Press), which turns 25 this year, and independent bookstores. Patterned after a promotion that Carol Chittenden, owner of Eight Cousins Bookstore in Falmouth, Mass., used last August to increase foot traffic at her store and neighboring businesses, the Find Waldo Local campaign, sponsored by Candlewick and the American Booksellers Association, has 250 participating booksellers and more than 5,000 local businesses from banks to farmers’ markets and ice cream shops.
Participating bookstores had to agree to work with 20 local businesses; each hides a mini standee of Waldo, the popular character created by Martin Handford in 1987. Would-be Waldo-spotters then pick up a search list at the bookstore and start collecting the “I Found Waldo at ________” cards, one per business. With help from Candlewick, stores are offering a host of prizes, including Waldo books, that can be given away based on how many cards they collect. Other businesses and downtown associations are adding prizes of their own to try to ensure that most kids and their families get lots of prizes for finding Waldo—and spending time at local stores.
As independents most bookstores are adding their own particular twist to the month-long scavenger hunt. A number are upping the ante with live Waldos. In Glen Ellyn, Ill., 25 miles west of Chicago, Renee Barker at The Bookstore convinced her mail carrier to dress up as Waldo for a week and give away something special to kids who spot him. Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine, is tying its campaign in with other Main Street activities during the month of July, including an international film festival and a sidewalk art show. It’s not certain yet if Waldo will make an appearance at any of the screenings, but he couldn’t resist a chance to mingle with Frieda Kahlo and Vincent Van Gogh at the art show. Bear Pond Books is bringing a Waldo on a unicycle to the Montpelier, Vt., Independence Day Celebration next week.
At R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Ct., new business development coordinator Kirsten Hess is using a live Waldo day on July 18 to promote the store’s Facebook page. The promotion will only be announced on Facebook and the store is asking people to take a picture of Waldo and post it there. Hess is also planning to move Waldo around the store each day and position him next to a book. Someone can win a prize if they can name what Waldo was reading in July. “It’s a perfect time [for the promotion] with summer reading,” says Hess. “I think it will be fun.”
Fun is definitely the name of the game at Copperfield’s in Petaluma, Calif. Not only did children’s specialist and children’s events coordinator Patty Norman go from shop to shop and get 40 stores to sign up, but another Copperfield’s bookseller persuaded the local ice cream shop to make a red-and-white striped ice cream in Waldo’s honor. The yarn store is knitting its mini Waldo a scarf; he’s wearing a sombrero at the Mexican restaurant. “What merchant wouldn’t want 500 people to come in?” asks Norman, referring to the extra traffic generated by Chittenden’s original Find Waldo last year.
Nor is Chittenden sitting this one out. “Yes, we’re doing Waldo,” she says. “Nobody turned us down when offered the chance, though a few failed to reply promptly. So we invited a couple new ones and are able to include the library.” For her, the best thing about Find Waldo was building a positive relationship with other businesses. “They’re happy that we’re sending foot traffic their way and to have a template for a way to create fun collaboratively,” she adds.
In that vein, perhaps the most thrilling event is one in Vancouver, Wash., where Vintage Books owner Becky Milner used it to help create the first Buy Vancouver Local. “It all coalesced thanks to Candlewick,” says Milner, who has tried unsuccessfully to do things with other business in the past. Elise Supovitz, director of field sales for Candlewick, says that she’s “most gratified” that Find Waldo Local has galvanized unity among local businesses like the one in Vancouver.
“Candlewick is thrilled to be able to partner with the ABA and hundreds of independent bookstores on a brilliant bookseller-created initiative that promises to increase foot traffic and sales during the summer travel season,” says Candlewick president and publisher Karen Lotz. “Picture book sales have been one of the few bright spots for publishers and retailers alike through a very challenging economic period, and we think [this] is a great way to keep that momentum going.”