Saturday, July 21, 2012

On the 5th Anniversary of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the final Harry Potter book being released. Yes, that’s right, July 21, 2007 at 12:01AM is when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released and placed into the hands of rabid fans that braved the long lines and had prepaid for the book in advance. I remember that day very well…

I was a supervisor for Borders during that time. I remember all the anticipation for the big day that started months in advance. The lanyards we wore that were dual sided, one stating that Snape was loyal, the other side declaring that he wasn’t; the phone calls that came in to confirm the release date of the book, or to take a pre-order for the book (I was even receiving phone calls on the graveyard shift in the middle of the night for several months before the release); and all the hype that built up in excitement to find out whether Harry Potter would live or die.

I had never read the Harry Potter series before or after I started working for Borders—in fact, I still haven’t read it. The hype to me seemed typical of a big series coming to an end, and Harry Potter was definitely the last big pinnacle in book sales before the death of the bookstore. When I think back to 5 years ago, it’s hard to believe how much has changed in the industry with bookstores closing down, Borders out of business, and the replacements for Harry Potter such as Twilight and The Hunger Games not even coming close to what Harry Potter raked in.

Brian the Bookseller on July 20, 2007
As the day drew closer, I remember the legal agreement we all had to sign saying we wouldn’t even touch the books, we wouldn’t reveal anything inside of them, etc. I still remember the day the truck delivered several pallets of boxes that said Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on them, warning about the legal ramifications should those boxes be opened before the release date, and our GM at the time decided the books weren’t going to sit in the stock room for 2-3 weeks. My manager and I loaded every box onto a cart, put large black blanket over them, and moved them into the GM’s office over several trips back and forth (while customers shopped in the store), and they were neatly stacked along all 4 walls of his office. The soundproofing in that room was unbelievable. I still wonder how that many boxes fit in that room.

We also had a man who would come into our store who was probably about 30 years old with his father, and he had hounded every manager in the store about bringing in his homemade Harry Potter props to put all around the store, wanting the Harry Potter cardboard display sign that we had, and also asking about the events in the store non-stop every time he came in. When it was my turn to deal with him and I heard over my radio that he was already told about how we didn’t need the props, the sign couldn’t be given away, and all the other questions we had already answered for him, he began to ask me about his Harry Potter props given I was a supervisor he hadn’t asked, and when I politely started to tell him no, he screamed “YOU SURE DO KNOW HOW TO KICK A GUY IN THE ASS!”

July 20, 2007 was definitely going to be a long day. And I was scheduled for a day shift from 7:00AM-4:00PM. The long list of people who had pre-ordered the book all received phone calls in the few days prior, there was a table being set up for people to be issued a wrist band determined by color. It was hard to say how many books we would have left over, or if anyone who didn’t reserve a copy would receive one. They issued a few different colored wrist bands to determine if they were the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd group, and another color for those who didn’t reserve it and were going to chance it. The line was already growing outside before we even opened the doors for business. After working my regular shift, I was asked if I could come back a few hours later to work the release as overtime, and for some crazy reason, I accepted the hours.

When I came back to the store a few hours later, things were already starting to get crazy and there were people in the store all over the place. A co-worker and I were given the job of keeping the crowd in check, making sure they didn’t clog the aisles in the case of a fire, and to move the crowd according to its size. There were people in costumes, people acting freaky, and people who just wanted to hang out to watch the people hanging out. The local newspaper spent time at the Barnes & Noble down the street instead of in our store, and we dealt with the local news station earlier in the day, so there was no press in the store during the big event. In the children’s department, we watched the adults in costume battle to the death with the children in costume over prizes given out during the various games.

And of course, the freaks came out that night.

We used to have a couple of strange female characters come into the store, a couple of sisters who would come in late at night and we’d have a hard time getting them out of the store after closing hours. As I walked back and forth, I heard them discussing their pornographic fantasies about Harry Potter, hearing about the Harry Potter based erotica they wrote and posted online, and some of those details continue to haunt me to this day and I never looked at them the same when they were in the store. I also remember a woman coming up to be dressed in a full witch costume with a hand and she gently put her hand on my head and said, “you have a nice shaped head…” By that time and with how much the crowd was swelling in the store to where there were bodies everywhere, I wasn’t amused by creepy witch lady telling me I had a nice shaped head.

The closer we approached midnight, the more bloodcurdling it became. The people were starting to become unruly; what we thought we had for a line became disorganized and didn’t make any sense, customers also became angry. The operations manager decided she was going to take the line outside given how many people were in the store, in the 100+ degree desert nighttime heat, and this infuriated one woman who referred to me as ‘f**king moron’ after declaring we were moving the people who came in first during the day outside into the heat and out of the air conditioning; it wasn’t a bad call considering how many people were in the store, even with the customers becoming upset. A woman also came up to me franticly yelling at me about how someone cut in front of her young daughter who had been the first to receive a bracelet and how I needed to get on my “thingy” (my radio wire) to get the general manager involved. The cafĂ© began to prepare cups of ice water for those who had been waiting outside to be given to them as the line moved into the store. Shortly before midnight, a train of my co-workers began rolling out the several hundred copies of the book we received on multiple carts to the register area. When we let people back into the store at 12:01AM on July 21, the anticipation was over. The line took over 1 hour to ring through with all cashiers on deck (7 of them), I stood at the back of the line when the last of it was released into the store and followed it all the way up to the cash registers.

When the last customer was rung up and we locked our doors after 1AM, we looked around the store and saw that it was completely trashed. While they shut down the registers and calculated the sales in the cash office, a small group of us began trying to put the store back together. As we all declared how insane that release was, I remember hearing the operations manager declare that we would never have to do another Harry Potter release again. I felt as if I was in a hurricane when we left the store at 2AM, and when a group of my co-workers decided to hit Denny’s, I was definitely in the mood to unravel in food therapy.

When I think back to the liquidation of Borders 4 years later, it’s hard to believe that Harry Potter wasn’t that long ago. While the release was chaotic, it definitely had a spirit of anticipation and excitement for those who gathered in the store to buy the final book in their favorite series. It’s hard to believe that this is being replaced by, and that there hasn’t been another series like Harry Potter that has people gathering in the middle of the night in anticipation to buy the latest of the series. The Twilight and Hunger Games series didn’t even come close to Harry Potter, and we had release parties for those too, and they weren’t even half of the size of that last Harry Potter book.

When I signed onto my personal blog the following day after the release of the book, I saw many messages of thanks and praise from my friends for working the Harry Potter release. Plus I can say it was the one big book event in my lifetime, and I was employed by Borders when the last Harry Potter book came out. 

A couple of pics from our release at Borders in Rancho Mirage, CA