Where's Waldo makes its mark on downtown

BY JULIA SHRIVER | JULY 02, 2013 5:00 AM

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After the search for Waldo has reached its 26th year, he has finally been found right here in Iowa City.

Children who have searched for the comic book character’s wire glasses and white- and red-striped shirt among the pages of Martin Handford’s illustrated books can now look for him in their own neighborhood.

Starting on Monday and continuing through the month of July, at least 40 downtown businesses will participate in “Where’s Waldo in Iowa City?” to encourage Iowa City area residents to shop locally and provide children with a fun scavenger hunt.

Local businesses, including Yogotopia, Hands Jewelers, McDonald Optical, and many more, will feature a “Shop Local, Find Waldo Here” window sticker, indicating that a cardboard Waldo figure is hidden in the store.

Each time a child has found Waldo, he or she can collect a “I found Waldo at …” card. Each time a child has collected 10 cards, he or she can hand them in to either Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St., or Iowa Book, 8 S. Clinton St., to receive a Waldo sticker and a $1 off" coupon for Waldo books, as well as enter a drawing to win more prizes.

Prizes will include Waldo postcard books, coupons for local businesses, and the grand prize — a six-volume set of Waldo books, all of which will be awarded at a Waldo party on July 31.

To make the search easier, a “Find Waldo in Downtown Iowa City” list of all participating businesses is also available upon request.

Candlewick Press, the publisher of the Where’s Waldo book series, and the American Booksellers Association are sponsoring 265 U.S. bookstores’ “Find Waldo Local” events, with Iowa Book and Prairie Lights in charge here in Iowa City.  

The publishing company first developed the idea last summer as a way to celebrate the book series’ 25th anniversary and connect it with the “Shop Local” movement, but after participating areas, including Iowa City, had considerable success, the company decided to do it again this year.

Matthew Lage of Iowa Book, the main organizer behind the Iowa City event, said all materials are provided by and paid for by Candlewick Press, with the only stipulation being that each hosting bookstore must place a supporting order of 40 Waldo books, all of which can be returned if they do not sell.

In fact, he said, rather than spike an increase in area bookstores’ sales of Waldo books, the event last year caused an increase in customers at many non-bookselling businesses such as Yotopia, which he said received a “barrage of people.”

“It’s a way of driving traffic through local area businesses and also introduce a lot of people to those businesses,” Lage said.

With at least 40 participating, he also said that this year’s event has attracted more businesses than last year’s 33.  At least two more businesses, Artifacts, 331 E. Market St., and Decorum and Modela, 323 E. Market St., have also expressed interest in joining in on the fun.

But Iowa Book and Prairie Lights organizers are still short of their goal total of at least 48 by the event’s end. Only one shop, the Soap Opera, refused requests for participation.

Chris Carpenter, an Iowa Book salesman, recalls last summer’s event.

“It was very successful in that it got a lot of families and kids downtown going to local businesses,” Carpenter said. “For instance, we heard somebody say that they came downtown, [and] they went into places that they never even knew were here.”

Prairie Lights employee Kathleen Johnson, who was also part of the event last year, said the children who participated seemed to enjoy it.

“It made them feel like they were doing what the book was about … It was really exciting for them to go out in the world and find Waldo for themselves,” she said.

In addition to providing children with a fun adventure, area businesses hope that the event will help remind residents of the importance of shopping locally.

“The money goes back into the taxes of your town to help build your roads, as opposed to if you buy something on the Internet, that money goes someplace else and is never seen again,” Carpenter said.
Johnson agreed.

“By shopping locally, you’re supporting the whole community,” she said. “If you live someplace, you have to realize that other people that live here have jobs, and if you don’t patronize local businesses, there won’t be any local businesses.”

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