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Newton's 'WizardCon' puts twist on Small Business Saturday

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Newton's first foray into wizardy, in 2017, brought about 35,000 people to the town of 8,000.
Newton's first foray into wizardy, in 2017, brought about 35,000 people to the town of 8,000. - ()

Whatever drew 35,000 people to Spring Street in tiny Newton last year, it must have been magic.

Erin Louglas, owner of Between the Bread in Newton, and fellow business owners were brainstorming ways to keep people milling about the downtown when they created Spells on Spring Street, a wizardry-themed event where they decorated the inside of their shops to look like something out of Harry Potter.

With around 10 participating shops, Louglas said they expected about 200 people, a great turnout for a town of only 8,000.

“But it went totally viral online,” she said. “We had over 166,000 shares. It was shared in Vegas, in Texas, all over the country, and people flocked here.”

This year, using lessons learned from last year, Newton is rebranding the event as WizardCon and aligning it with Small Business Saturday, the shopping holiday created by American Express in 2010 to give a boost to Main Street retailers.

It’s projected to bring thousands of dollars into Newton’s business district. WizardCon’s event page has been shared over 600 times this week.

“Just the amount of money coming in on that day alone…we’re small, and we don’t have that many people come into town,” Louglas said. “It’s perfectly timed. It bumps us for the holidays and everyone can get through the winter. ... Some businesses last year, that day saved them. It pulled them out of financial problems.”

It even brought more permanent residents into town.

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“This event caused [at least one person] to buy a house in Newton, they came and said they loved it,” she said. “Free Bird Tattoo, the store next to me, opened up because of it, too. They came to town and said ‘We want to be here.’ We’ve never had a tattoo parlor on this street.”

Bonnie Bitondo, owner of Spring Street pet store Maxwell & Molly’s Closet, said that’s her favorite part of the event.

“I thought that was the most exciting thing, to think that the event brought people here and some people fell in love with it as the quaint lovely town that it is. We were kind of blown away by the response last year,” said Bitondo.

This year, Maxwell & Molly’s Closet will be selling custom-made wizardry-themed apparel for dogs and cats. At Louglas’s bakery, she’s serving up Harry Potter-themed treats like chocolate frogs and buttered beer lattes. Other members of the Newton Merchant Association, which Louglas heads, are also taking a witchy take on their businesses, including a thrift shop making personalized wands and a hair salon doing a demo on fairy-themed hair.

There will be a cosplay contest, spell and magic classes, street vendors, and more; and in the vein of Harry Potter, a quidditch match and a sorting hat.

To harness the power of the event for social good, the NMA teamed up with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northern New Jersey. Ticket sales are expected in the thousands, with proceeds going to BBBSNJ and all other sales going directly to the local businesses.

WizardCon follows Newton’s annual holiday parade and goes from 1:30 to 5:30 p.m.

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Gabrielle Saulsbery

Gabrielle Saulsbery

Albany, N.Y. native Gabrielle Saulsbery is a staff writer for NJBIZ and the newest thing in New Jersey. You can contact her at gsaulsbery@njbiz.com.

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