Harry Potter madness will hit Oak Park again on Friday in honor of the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. But this time the organizers have been working hard to avoid the elbow-to-elbow crowds of 2003, said Deirdra Stockmann, organizer of this year’s event.
People came from everywhere for the 2003 party, according to Magic Tree Bookstore co-owner Rose Joseph, who estimates that between 8,000 and 10,000 Potter fans squeezed onto North Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street when local businesses recreated the wizard center of London, Diagon Alley, and sold Harry Potter-themed merchandise and food.
That crush of people made safety a top priority for the village this year, said David Powers, village spokesman. Oak Park is hiring extra policemen for the night, said Powers, and Stockmann expects about 75 volunteers to help with crowd control.
Because of Scoville Park’s availability for crowd overflow this year, police are planning to keep North Oak Park Avenue open to traffic, although they are prepared to close it off if necessary, Powers said. Extra shuttle stops will transport Oak Parkers to the festivities.
“We’ve held several meetings with the businesses there to talk about the special event,” Powers said. “This one was planned a lot further in advance … [The police] are absolutely prepared.”
Village officials and party organizers expect this party to be smaller”about 3,000 to 5,000 people instead of 8,000 to 10,000 in 2003, according to Carrollo and Stockmann.
“I told people from the very beginning not to expect the crowds we had last time,” said Rich Carrollo, the executive director of the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which has been coordinating and sponsoring the event.
To spread out crowds, the Potter events are staggered throughout the day and scattered around the village, Stockmann said. Although there will be more activities this year and more stores participating, there has also been more planning for the crowds, she said.
Despite earlier hesitation about getting involved, the park district agreed to donate two parks, as well as Cheney Mansion and Pleasant Home, for the night, two summer interns and a cleanup crew, said Gary Balling, executive director of the Park District of Oak Park.
“Our hesitation was an assertion that if this is going to be a large event, all the parties, including the [Visitors Bureau], the library, Magic Tree and the police had to be working together,” Balling said. “From what I’m seeing, that’s what’s happening with all the pre-planning.”
Recreating the world of Harry Potter does not come cheap. Carrollo expects this year’s Harry Potter bash to cost about $30,000, mostly in labor costs. Oak Park citizens and companies have already raised about $9,000 to make it happen, and the remaining money will come from the Visitors Bureau, Carrollo said.
“There’s a lot of individual volunteer efforts going into this,” Carrollo said. Magic Tree Bookstore is at the top of that list”despite passing many responsibilities on to the Visitors Bureau, Magic Tree has been keeping track of activity pre-registration and taking media requests.
Undoubtedly, such a big event is good for Oak Park, Carrollo said. Iris Yipp, a co-owner of Magic Tree, hopes the visiting Potterphiles will come back to the businesses and historic venues such as Cheney Mansion and Pleasant Home.
Already, the participants are beginning to get psyched for Harry Potter.
“It seems so well-planned this year,” said Lori Pulliam, the manager of children’s services at the library.
And as Magic Tree owners Iris Yipp and Rose Joseph point out, the large crowd was well-behaved in 2003, with no arrests or misconduct. “Everyone just got in the mood,” Joseph remembered.
“[Joseph and Yipp] really have the good of the community and the good of the children at heart,” said Bronwyn Wright, who works at Magic Tree (and is an employee of Chicago Parent, a Wednesday Journal, Inc. publication). “It’s good for the village.”