Jennie Pomerante, 17, began squealing early Saturday as soon as she received her preordered copy of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince."
"Pages, pages, how many pages," the Oak Park teen mumbled. "652!" she shrieked with excitement, clutching the book with anticipation.
Pomerante was one of hundreds of Potter fans lined up Friday outside the Magic Tree Book Shop in Oak Park awaiting the release of the sixth book in the popular series about a benevolent boy wizard and his battles against the forces of evil.
The countdown began at 60 seconds; the crowd became increasingly excited at 20 seconds and was downright frantic as the last 10 seconds ticked away before the midnight release of the long-anticipated book.
Similar scenes played out from London to New York, where fans have been looking forward to the release of the latest volume in the series, which has developed a devoted following.
With millions of presold copies, the book is one of the biggest releases in history.
And there is no question that booksellers coast-to-coast have been anticipating the latest installment in British author J.K. Rowling's fantasy series. For independent retailers, a Harry Potter release can mean the difference between a good year and a bad one.
"It does drive other book sales," said Becky Anderson Wilkins, owner of Anderson's Bookshops in Downers Grove and Naperville.
Wilkins said many independent booksellers saw sales dip in 2004 from 2003, when "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" was released.
"We've never had anything like it," she said of the popularity of the Potter books.
Scholastic Inc., the American publisher of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," reports shipping 10.8 million copies, the largest book release in history.
The book and audio edition already sit atop amazon.com's list of most popular items. Fans had preordered nearly 700,000 copies by June and the online bookstore is planning to ship more than 800,000 prepurchased copies of the book.
The Chicago Public Library preordered nearly 1,000 copies to distribute among its nearly 80 branches.
According to Associated Press, about 200 fans camped out at the Borders Bookstore on State Street.
Nichols Library in Naperville purchased 373 hardcopy and audio versions of the book and remained open Friday for the late-night release of the tome.
"We're all excited that a book can cause so much excitement and enthusiasm. Whole families are coming out and enjoying this," said library spokeswoman Susan Greenwood. This is the first time the library has stayed open until midnight. In response to the mania, retailers from Mt. Prospect to Naperville organized daylong festivals to fan the Harry hysteria.
Randhurst Mall in Mt. Prospect offered Harry Potter raffles, live music, a "wizard prison" and a life-size game of chess Friday.
Dubbed "Spellbound," the event began at 10 a.m., and like most of the parties, it concluded at midnight, when eager fans were finally able to make their book purchases.
Jessenia Guzman, 20, of Chicago walked the mall during the day dressed as a student from Hogwarts--the school of wizardry that Harry attends. She doesn't usually see many people her age at Potter parties, but that had no bearing on her enthusiasm.
"I couldn't even sleep last night," said Guzman. "All I could think about was Harry Potter."
In Naperville, busy Jefferson Avenue was closed for one downtown block and transformed into the fictional village of Hogsmeade.
Bank One became "Gringott's Wizarding Bank," offering kids free savings accounts. Anderson's Bookstore renamed itself "Florish and Blotts" and held trivia contests and classes on how to create spells. And "Hogsmeade Cafe," also known as Arbor Vitae Java & Juice, offered non-alcoholic butterbeer.
At Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove, the first Harry Potter movie, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," was shown for $1.
And celebrations involving more than just bookstores were also planned at Hawthorn Mall in Vernon Hills and in Danville and Princeton.
Oak Park credits itself with launching the Potter craze in 2003 when the Magic Tree Book Shop tried to recreate Diagon Alley, an enchanted London shopping district for witches and wizards detailed in the Potter books, to mark the release of "Order of the Phoenix."
More than 7,000 people, many of them adults dressed in costumes, packed Oak Park Avenue--overwhelming event planners, drawing national media attention, and unnerving quite a few townsfolk.
"The community was a little freaked out," said Rich Carollo, president and CEO of the Oak Park Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. Oak Park extended its all day celebration Friday to accommodate crowds.
The celebrations have provided an outlet for eager fans. Costumed kids lined up outside the Barnes & Noble in Naperville hours before the release.
By 12:10 a.m. Saturday, 9-year-old Amy Verrando was sitting on the curb outside another Naperville bookstore, scanning her copy of the book with her father. The Potter parties generated more than sales. They proved to be a tourist draw as well.
The Dittman family of Frankfurt spent the day at the Mt. Prospect mall before heading to a nearby hotel.
Dawn Hickey drove from Oak Creek, Wis., with her 9-year-old daughter, Shaina, and planned to spend the night at a Schiller Park lodge after standing in line to buy the book.
And Carollo said Oak Park's two hotels had received inquiries about the festival from as far away as New Mexico.
Judi Robles, a 56-year-old mother of two adult children from Marblehead, Ohio, was staying at an Oak Park hotel. She drove 300-plus miles with the black dress, witch's hat and wand that she took to the Oak Park event in 2003.
"I love Harry Potter. I love the stories. I love the ideas behind it," she said.
Robles said her husband, Robert, a jail administrator, does not share her Potter passion, but he drove her to and from the event.
She said her husband called the fans in 2003 "the biggest bunch of weirdos I've ever seen."
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