On Saturday, 25,000 Harry Potter enthusiasts flooded Spring Street in Newton, N.J. — just about an hour from Princeton — to witness its transformation into Diagon Alley for the afternoon.
Following the Newton’s annual holiday parade, four shops known as the Spring Circle Merchants became magical storefronts from the famous fictional series.
The small town holds several community events throughout the year, such as its spring parade. This was its first Harry Potter-themed event. Ryan Stapel is the owner of ReCollectables, one of the four shops involved. He came up with the idea for this Diagon Alley event as a way to support the local businesses, many of which are located on Spring Street. The event also fell on national Small Business Day.
Stapel’s inspiration was the proximity of the 20th anniversary of the first book in the Harry Potter series. He said his street’s picturesque and eclectic charm reminded him of the alley in the stories.
Stapel’s store became Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, while nearby store Between the Bread was decorated as the Great Hall from Harry Potter. The Barrel House became The Leaky Cauldron and served Butterbeer to patrons clad in merchandise from the stories.
Charcoal Moons, the store decorated as Ollivanders, sold out of wands within half an hour of the start of the event.
“It was that many people, that excited, and that’s remarkable,” said attendee Jess Bolduc.
Locals and out-of-towners, children and adults alike attended. Fans clad in Hogwarts House scarves explored the street with the help of scavenger hunts. Those dressed up as characters from the series entered the costume contest.
Charcoal Moons co-owner Jacqueline Deleeuw said the event was bringing needed recognition to Spring Street.
“I think the motivation alone was to just keep getting people to come back,” said Deleeuw. “Just to make sure people know that Spring Street is awesome. It has so much potential.”
Newton has been looking for ways to improve its image for some time, according to local residents Rosanne Olsher, Lisa Pickett, and Steven Pepchinski.
“I’m hoping that this will bring business back to Newton,” said Pepchinski. “There’s a lot of storefronts that are closed.”
The volume of fans was somewhat overwhelming for the small street. Lines stretched down the street for Butterbeer at The Barrel House as it sent baristas to buy more food. Patrons inside had waited one to two hours to enter.
“We didn’t know what to expect until today,” Stapel said. He spent the afternoon standing in front of his store to communicate with patrons and other store owners and ensure the event was running smoothly. One complaint was about patrons’ cars being towed from the nearby mall parking lots where they had been parked for the Diagon Alley event.
Planning for the Diagon Alley event started three months prior, but the story went viral on Nov. 14. Stapel said that news broadcasts, including radio morning show host Elvis Duran, reported about the town in expectation of its Diagon Alley event. Before the boom in popularity, Stapel said the street had expected 300 to 400 visitors.
To cope with the increase in expected volume, Stapel communicated with the town and the office of Mayor Wayne Levante, which he said “were gracious enough to help us out.” Police officers directed traffic and pedestrians at the edge of the street, and the city provided facilities like portable toilets.
Store owners and visitors alike expressed interest in recreating Diagon Alley for future years.
“[This is] going to become annual, because it was obviously such a hit. But this was obviously our first year, it’ll be better next year,” Deleeuw said.
The crowds didn’t dampen the excitement for some.
“It’s been a magical day with magical people,” said Bolduc.