Next month marks one decade since bookstores began using the bespectacled children’s book character in the red-and-white-striped shirt, who is featured in Martin Handford Where’s Waldo? books, for a summertime promotion to encourage families to shop local.
As a result of the Find Waldo Local promotion, stores like Cindi Whittemore’s Ink Spell Books in Half Moon Bay, Calif., have experienced increased sales of as much as 20% for July. Following the last in-person Waldo promotion in 2019, Whittemore compared Find Waldo Local sales to those at the holiday season. “Honestly,” she said, “it’s the most fantastic thing we do each year. It reminds everybody that we’re here, when it’s just so easy to go to Amazon.”
The Find Waldo Local campaign launched in 2012, following a test run one year earlier at Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., where residents and visitors to the Cape searched for the elusive character. The national promotion was developed by Candlewick Press, publisher of Where’s Waldo?, in partnership with the American Booksellers Association. Canadian booksellers beta tested a similar campaign in 2019.
Despite a few hiccups due to Covid restrictions in many areas, which forced the annual promotion to move online in 2020 for an extended run in July and August and to take a hiatus in 2021, Find Waldo Local is back this year with its message of localism.
The July event consists of a month-long scavenger hunt for Waldo standees hidden in independent bookstores and up to 25 local businesses. Kids earn prizes by filling out a Find Waldo card with a stamp or signature for each Waldo they find. The scavenger hunts culminate with parties, prizes, and lots of Waldo-themed cakes.
In a press release about the 2022 campaign, Karen Walsh, executive director of publicity for brands and key titles at Candlewick, noted, “Booksellers attest that store traffic and book sales increase exponentially during their Waldo search events. A bonus for retailers is the depth of collaboration with other local businesses and community alliances that continually seek ways to rejuvenate and revitalize local shopping districts.” She added that “local shopping is even more important as retailers emerge from the pandemic.”
Following the last in-person Find Waldo Local campaign, Alice Hutchinson, owner of Byrd’s Books in Bethel, Conn., said that for her store, the promotion is more successful than Independent Bookstore Day or Shop Local Day on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. “[Find Waldo Local] is one of my passions; it makes our town,” noted Hutchinson, who estimated that the promotion brought as many as 1,200 people not just to her store but to other participating merchants. Many Waldo sleuths had never visited some of the businesses before.
Finding Waldo has not only helped local businesses gain new customers and generate sales but also provided entertainment for booksellers and families alike. “We here at Saturn Booksellers had a great time hiding multiple Waldos on different floats during our annual community celebration,” said Karin Beyer of Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Mich., in 2012. “It was great to hear the crowd yell ‘There’s Waldo’ when they spotted a Waldo along the three-mile parade loop. In total we had 20 Waldos in the parade.”
Sometimes spotting Waldo brings other rewards, as one family learned at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, Wash., in 2016. “We had an incredibly special Waldo party for all of our finishers,” said bookstore owner Suzanne Droppert. “Before the party, we received a call from Lt. Cdr. Brian Ross, who had just landed at Sea-Tac Airport, home from being stationed overseas. He knew his very pregnant wife, Jessica, and their three children would be attending our Waldo party and asked if we would help him surprise his family. We hid Brian in a neighboring restaurant and dressed him up as Waldo. He sat down and started talking to his kids in costume and they didn’t recognize him. He took his glasses off and they still didn’t recognize him. He took his hat off, and his daughter Eden looked up and said, ‘Daddy?!’ ”