Pottermania comes to Newton

| 29 Nov 2017 | 02:25

By Meghan Byers
— Unprecedented crowds arrived in Newton this Saturday to witness the transformation of Spring Street into Diagon Alley, a magical market street from the Harry Potter series. Witches and wizards of all ages came pouring in from all across the Tri-State area, many donning cloaks, hats, and scarves from the famous series. Wands, broomsticks, and even stuffed owls became commonplace as enormous crowds of Harry Potter fans lined up outside stores and restaurants that had been decorated to look like various shops from the wizarding world.
The day began with the annual Newton Holiday Parade, this year featuring a special, magical theme. Many participants marched along in Harry Potter costumes, and one candy-carrying float was decorated to resemble the franchise’s wizarding sweet shop, Honeydukes. Following the parade, Spring Street opened up as a pedestrian-only, wizard-friendly shopping center, with twenty-five different restaurants and stores offering Potter-themed merchandise, food, and beverages — including Butterbeer, a popular non-alcoholic drink from the series. Some estimates placed the number of attendees at 35,000, which may have been a historic amount of visitors for Spring Street.
“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” said photographer Dan Schenker, a longtime resident of Sussex County who had been hired for the event. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Newton that crowded.”
Ryan Stapel, owner of the vintage novelty store ReCollectables, said it was his wife Jacky Stapel who came up with the idea after seeing how well their Harry Potter merchandise was selling. The Diagon Alley event coincided with Small Business Saturday and was initially meant to help attract local shoppers to what Schenker described as a recently revitalized Spring Street. The area has seen multiple new businesses open in the last few years, including ReCollectables.
“It was really just a way to keep people on the street after the holiday parade at first,” said Stapel. “For about a few months that’s how we had been advertising: small, low-key, local. It was only about ten days before the event that we found out it went viral.”
“The reach of this thing has just been absolutely crazy,” said Schenker, who said he had even been contacted by a news station in North Carolina regarding the event.
“Our restaurant was filled at 8:30 am and had a line out the door and around the block until 4:00 pm when we closed up shop,” Between the Bread, one of the Diagon Alley participants, wrote on their official Facebook page. “Thank you to the public for loving Newton as much as we do.”
This unexpected influx of visitors did create challenges for the small town, and some attendees expressed discontent with the long lines and limited activities available. Parking was another concern, alleviated somewhat by the addition of two shuttle buses carrying passengers over from Sussex County Community College.
“I wish we could have done more,” said Stapel. “We tried to do as much as we could in the time we had. Obviously with those kind of numbers it was hard to please everyone... But next year we’ll have a lot more support, and a full year to plan instead of ten days. I’ve already been getting calls from businesses that want to be involved, calls from people who want to volunteer.”
“For the most part, I think people did have a good time,” Schenker said. “Something like Harry Potter just has such a loyal fanbase. People were so excited to see something like this here in Newton, when otherwise you’d have to go to some place like Orlando or London. It was exciting to have this right here in our little town.”
Stapel ultimately felt that the event offered valuable publicity for the town and its local businesses.
“We wanted to highlight our community up here,” said Stapel. “A lot of people never come up past Morristown; some people have never even heard of Newton. What’s good for Newton is good for the county, and good for other towns.”