Harry Potter madness kicks off

Tucked in back rooms, hidden from hordes of crazed fans, local bookstores are stilling quietly holding onto their most prized possession of the year and likely of the new millennium. Late tonight, though, hundreds of copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” will be pulled from their current spots within storage rooms and placed on shelves to await the eager hands of fans young and old, which are expected to flock in droves to local bookstores at midnight.

“It was like a mad rush,” Crystal O’Neal, manager of the Fenwick Island Atlantic Books, said of the last the last time a segment of the Harry Potter saga was released. “It was insane.”

O’Neal expects more of the same when she opens tonight at midnight to accommodate salivating fans who cannot wait until Saturday morning to pick up the ending to the epic tale. The seventh and final part in the magical Harry Potter series is already an international bestseller from pre-release sales and is easily expected to be the most popular book of the year.

O’Neal will open tonight like a carnival, with snacks and stations for face-painting and temporary tattoos. She has ordered 550 copies of the 749-page book with its 10-page epilogue and has reserved 250 copies for customers who must retrieve them within a day.

The books will be on sale at Atlantic Books for $26.34, a 25 percent discount off the full retail price. O’Neal said she expects to sell out of the books by 10 a.m. Saturday. After the mad rush tonight, the Fenwick Island location will reopen at 9 a.m. Saturday morning. The Bethany Beach Atlantic Book Warehouse will also open at midnight tonight.

“Everybody is in high spirits,” O’Neal said. “The kids are excited. For the kids, it’s like Christmas morning. Even the adults are into it. It’s a fun thing.”

In downtown Bethany, Bethany Beach Books is also preparing for a rush when the staff there reopens at midnight tonight. The Bethany store has ordered 750 copies of the book and already sold nearly 400 in pre-sale. “Deathly Hallows” will be on sale for the full retail price of $34.99 there tonight and tomorrow.

Even Maureen’s, the ice cream shop next door, will remain open until 12:30 a.m. and be selling a special sundae in the shop, which will be decorated Harry Potter-style for the final Potter release. Bethany Beach Books employees and avid Potter fans Heather Whippie, 17, and Tricia Ready, 21, helped explain the madness surrounding the tale.

“I get very engaged with the characters,” said Ready, who has been reading the books since she was 12 years old. “It’s about settings and friendships and the characters. It’s a whole other world.” Ready said there are a lot of “holes,” in the story that many hope the last book will help to fill. Whippie agreed, also citing the other-worldly nature of the books, which can be used as an escape from real life where wizards do not exist.

“It can’t be explained,” Whippie said excitedly as she showed off the replica copies of the book the store has on display. “We’ve all grown up reading these. It’s been more than half of our lives. I just love them. They’re addicting.”

Even Selbyville Public Library could not pass up an opportunity to have a party for the much-anticipated event. At 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, after the lines have died at the local bookstores and the stock numbers dwindle to nothing, children will show up in Harry Potter costumes to the library for refreshments, craft activities and a reading session.

Tanya Shelton-Council said library officials will even give away a couple copies of the new book.

“It fits right in with our summer reading theme and Harry Potter is very popular,” Shelton-Council said. “It’s a no-brainer. It’s a very popular book.”