Waldo has been hiding from readers around the world for 32 years in the famous “Where’s Waldo?” children’s book series, but this is only his eighth year coming to Athens. Avid Bookshop, a locally-owned indie bookstore, has been hosting Waldo’s annual July visit since 2012 when Candlewick Press, Waldo’s publisher, started the “Find Waldo Local” campaign, according to Avid’s operations director Rachel Watkins.
The campaign seeks to celebrate Waldo’s iconic character, but the focus of the program is to foster a sense of community between small businesses as well as between those businesses and the Athens residents they serve.
Another important aim of the campaign is driving traffic to local stores during the summer months when business tends to be slow.
The summer slump is an issue for many small businesses in Athens, especially since a significant part of their customer base are University of Georgia students,Watkins said, many of whom go back to their respective hometowns.
Candlewick Press, along with its co-sponsor the American Booksellers Association, works to combat the summer slump by sponsoring 250 small-scale bookstores nationwide in hosting their own “Find Waldo Local” campaign.
“Every year I have customers say, ‘This made me go to locally-owned businesses that I had never stepped foot in because I didn’t think they had something for me, and they did,’” said Watkins.
Once a bookstore has been selected, the sponsor provides them with promotional materials, prizes and other various Waldo-themed items needed to conduct their own “Where’s Waldo” event. The store then finds up to 25 fellow local businesses to participate in a giant scavenger hunt by hiding a miniature Waldo somewhere in their store.
Now that the nation-wide campaign has been going for eight years, over 250 bookstores across the U.S. want to participate — some have to be turned away. However, Avid Bookshop has been able to secure a spot each year.
How to participate
July 1 marks the beginning of Avid’s “Find Waldo Local” event, titled “Where’s Waldo in the ATH?” Those interested in participating in the hunt can pick up their “Waldo passport” at either of the bookshop’s two locations at Five Points or Prince Avenue. But the “official Waldo headquarters” is in Five Points.
The scavenger hunt is open to people of all ages, but is geared towards children and families.
Participants should take their passports with them on the search because once Waldo is spotted, they need to find an employee and — quietly, as to not tip-off anyone else in the store — tell them where Waldo is hidden. Then, the employee will either sign or stamp the passport to confirm that the player found that location’s Waldo.
This year’s hunt has an extra character to find. Odlaw, Waldo’s evil, mustachioed foil, is hiding out somewhere in the official Waldo headquarters, and he has a space on the passport as well.
The first participant to find all 25 Waldos by July 31 wins a grand prize. However, before mapping out a route to be the big winner, know that hitting every store might not be as easy as it may seem. A number of the participating stores have special holiday hours for the first week of July, meaning Waldo might be hiding behind a locked door.
How to win
Those who can’t find all the Waldos can still receive a prize. Anyone who has turned in a passport with at least 20 stamps or signatures before the Waldo celebration on July 31 will be entered into a prize raffle with items donated by participating businesses. The first 250 participants to take a passport with 10 confirmed Waldo sightings to the Waldo headquarters will get an “I Found Waldo” button and a coupon for $1 off a “Where’s Waldo” book purchased at Avid.
The celebration will feature discussions about participants’ experiences while on their searches, as well as a potential appearance by Waldo himself, who will likely be ready to socialize after a month of hiding.
A team effort
With kids out of school for the summer, caretakers can quickly run out of ways to keep them busy and entertained. Watkins said she believes the event especially benefits parents, babysitters and caretakers who are looking for a relatively low-cost activity to do with kids.
The event is free to participate in. Of course, there’s always the possibility of finding something to purchase at one of the many stores.
Winnie Smith’s family is excited to participate in this year’s scavenger hunt after discovering the game last summer. Her 7-year-old son, Winfield, enjoys finding particularly well-hidden Waldos.
“It’s kind of a challenge and it’s pretty fun,” said Winfield. His favorite hiding spot last year was Athens Running Company, where Waldo was tucked away behind the shades.
This will be K.A. Artist Shop’s third year letting Waldo hide in its store for the month of July. Kristen Ashley MacCarthy, the owner of the shop on North Jackson Street, said she can always tell when young visitors are there on a mission.
“[Kids] come in and we can tell they’re looking for Waldo by the look in their eyes,” said MacCarthy. “They just look like they’re on a hunt.”
K.A. Artist Shop tries to hide Waldo in a spot relatively easy to find, but Treehouse Kid and Craft — which has been one of Waldo’s hiding places since Avid launched the event — gets creative with its Waldo placement.
However, employees at both stores said they always help out when they can tell someone is struggling to find Waldo, often by playing a game of “hot and cold” to let them know when they’re close to Waldo’s hiding spot.
Kristen Bach, founder of Treehouse, has participated in the Waldo scavenger hunt as a hunter as well as a business. She and her 9-year-old daughter, Maypop, have looked for Waldo together the past few years.
Maypop said the hardest Waldo to find in last year’s event was at Buvez coffee shop on Barber Street, which is also participating in this year’s hunt.
Though some business owners said they do see an uptick in traffic during and after the scavenger hunt, the financial benefits of the event don’t seem to be what motivates them to participate.
“Some people do buy things, but, I think for us, the main thing that we gain from it is just that we love our community and we love to have this fun, little scavenger hunt,” Bach said.
Whether you’re looking for something to stop the kids from going stir crazy or just someone who wants to check out more local businesses, participating in Avid Bookshop’s “Where’s Waldo in the ATH?” event is a fun way to spend part of your July.