Smash success! Wizarding Weekend organizers say they rolled with Internet lightning strike

November 1, 2015 by Rachel Cera

"Three weeks ago we began planning a simple Halloween event, expecting less than 200 attendees," says Boxy Bikes owner Laurence Clarkberg, who had the idea behind the Wizarding Weekend event that gave downtown Ithaca's Press Bay Alley the feel of Diagon Alley of "Harry Potter" fame on Saturday.

A crowd at Press Bay Alley, the heart of Saturday's event. Photos courtesy of Mike Darrah.A crowd at Press Bay Alley, the heart of Saturday's event. Photos courtesy of Mike Darrah.He says John Guttridge, owner of the Press Bay Alley complex, and Darlynne Overbaugh, owner of Life's So Sweet Chocolates, took the idea and ran with it. Overbaugh first suggested a schedule featuring story hour and craft time, a Quidditch match, and trick-or-treating, a schedule "which in retrospect is laughably simple," he says.

As word of the event spread far beyond Ithaca's borders, Clarkberg says, Guttridge reached out to contacts in City Hall, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance and the local Convention & Visitors Bureau, as well as the Cornell Raptor program and several local food trucks. A group of local home-school kids made an eight-foot dragon "out of chicken wire and papier mache the night before." Even if thousands came from outside Ithaca, it's worth noting that the participating vendors were all local businesses! That's a sharp contrast to events that bring generic carnival food stands to town.

"There is another important part to this story: Ithaca Generator," stresses Clarkberg. "The importance of Press Bay Alley having a makerspace in its midst cannot be underestimated. In addition to giving us shopkeepers access to tools, the makerspace is the wild side of the Alley, keeping it real." A makerspace "is an international movement of underground (literally underground in our case) community workshops. It is also a wellspring of innovation," he adds. "Every time I passed through the space last week I saw more and more cool things coming together," from signs on a laser cutter to animated portraits and wand-making.

His Boxy Bikes shop, which sells and rents electric bikes, is one of the original tenants of the Press Bay Alley micro-retail facility. The bikes can go 20mph, "and yes, they can go up Buffalo Street without pedaling," says Clarkberg. His bikes also played an important role this weekend, in the Cargo Bike Quidditch match!

Magic happened in Downtown Ithaca! Mischief managed!Magic happened in Downtown Ithaca! Mischief managed!Clarkberg credits an "Internet lightning strike" for spreading word of the event far and wide. "When we hosted the event yesterday, estimates were that between 8,000 and 15,000 people came," he said in a post to the event's Facebook page. Many hundreds of people came in costume, dozens of volunteers kept things running smoothly, and local shops and eateries got to introduce themselves to folks who are saying they look forward to coming back.

 "That lightning strike is completely unpredictable and a bit scary," Clarkberg says, "but it’s also awesome and a great opportunity as we saw yesterday." How did they harness the lightning? "One thing is certain: if a retail space is local, connected, and creative they can be ready to roll with it.

"This Wizarding Weekend event proves that Press Bay Alley is a special place that deserves to be held up as an example," says Clarkberg, comparing the cluster of small, local shops to mall businesses who "don’t have connections to local farms and craftspeople, their allegiance is to a corporate headquarters beyond the horizon."

"Over and over again during our Wizarding Weekend I saw 20-somethings give Harry Potterdom an almost religious reverence," Clarkberg says of the feel of the weekend. "In just over a week we had put together an event that rivals other major Ithaca events." Thanks to Mr. Clarkberg for allowing us to share his comments!

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