ITHACA, N.Y. — About four days ago, shopkeepers at Press Bay Alley thought they would put together a small Harry Potter inspired event, so families could show up for free candy and cider on Halloween.
But as of Friday afternoon, organizers say they’ve had to change their plans to accommodate what could be thousands of people turning up for the event.
“I have never had this kind of response to an event,” said Darlynne Overbaugh, owner of Life’s So Sweet Chocolate.
“When we started this idea we thought, ‘Ah, maybe 200 people (will attend),’” she said. “Then we discovered that it had a much broader reach than that.”
As of Friday afternoon, over 3,500 people had RSVP’d on Facebook to go to Wizard Weekend.
She said the concept for transforming Press Bay Alley into a version of Diagon Alley — the heart of magical shopping in London — came from Boxy Bikes owner Laurence Clarkberg.
Clarkberg said he and an employee were talking about what to do for Halloween when they noticed that Press Bay Alley — located at 116-118 W. Green Street — reminded them of Diagon Alley.
He said he spread the idea to several shopkeepers who agreed that it would be fun to decorate the alley with a magical theme and dress like wizards and witches.
But when Overbaugh put the event on Facebook, they said they watched as the number of interested attendees surpassed the amount of people who RSVP’s to Downtown Ithaca’s Oktoberfest (2,300).
“At first we were excited about it but then we became kind of alarmed,” Clarkberg said. “How much candy do 3,000 people want?”
Overbaugh said business owners in the alley knew people would be disappointed if they showed up to only candy, cider and a few games. So she started planning a larger event and reaching out to people in the community.
“I’m pretty ambitious in general. I mean, I own a candy store,” she said laughing.
As of Friday, she said about a dozen volunteers have signed up to help with the event, which has grown to include costume contests, wizarding duels, food trucks and two Quidditch – inspired broomstick matches played on electric bikes. Children up to 12 years old will be encouraged to trick-or-treat, attend story time and visit the craft making areas.
Mayor Svante Myrick said the event is an amazing example of the innovation and entrepreneurial-ism of the people of Press Bay Alley.
“These are risk takers. They are people who think differently than your typical entrepreneur and I think that innovation is paying off,” he said about the business owners in the alley.
Overbaugh said the event can likely host up to 5,000 people in the alley, nearby parking lot, and surrounding area.
Myrick said the event will be a real test for the capacity of Press Bay Alley, which opened last summer and is located near the Commons, but he’s confident the alley and downtown Ithaca will be ready for a slew of wizards.
“We’re drawing crowds to downtown Ithaca that we’ve never seen before and so far we’ve been able to handle it,” he said, citing the recent Apple Festival and Talib Kweli concert, which drew at least 2,000 people into the Commons.
“That’s the beautiful thing about the new renovation. Any spillover from Press Bay Alley, the Commons will be ready to accommodate,” he said.
Myrick said he’s looking forward to going to the Wizarding Weekend. He said he might wear magical attire and look to replace his phoenix-feather core wand, which he said has been acting up lately.
At the risk of losing voters, he affiliated himself with one of the four Harry Potter houses.
“As mayor of Ithaca, which is the smartest city in the country…it wouldn’t make sense if I was anything but house Ravenclaw,” Myrick said. “I have a tattoo across my back that says ‘Ravenclaw for lyfe’.”
He declined to provide photographic evidence of the tattoo.
Muggles, witches and wizards can expect the following on Halloween:
Two costume contests are happening — one for adults and one for children. The categories include best good wizard/witch, best evil wizard/witch and most creative muggle.
Star Truck, which specializes in vegan and vegetarian comfort food, has been verified for the event.
Electric Broom Stick Reenactments
Inspired by the Quidditch matches in the movie “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” rehearsed Quidditch-inspired games are happening at 1 p.m. between teams calling themselves Gryffindor and Slytherin. A match between Hufflepuff and Gryffindor is happening at 3 p.m.
Boxy Bikes is providing the electric bicycles for the event.
Check out a separate story about this later today!
Magic inspired shops/Trick-or-treating
Overbaugh said she used Honeydukes — a candy shop in the Harry Potter series — to inspire the chocolate and candy she’ll be selling during the event. She said she’ll even have a soda available for purchase that will remind people of Butterbeer.
There will also be circus demonstrations from people at Circus Culture.
Bring your wands. Know some spells.
The duels are happening in the parking lot by Press Bay Alley.