Supermarkets Casting for Sales on Harry Potter Book Release

NEW YORK -- Stop & Shop, Publix, Meijer, and Kroger are among the supermarket operators conjuring up special events to promote tonight's release of the latest book in the hugely successful Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," by J.K. Rowling.

Quincy, Mass.-based Stop & Shop, a division of Ahold, will host book release parties beginning at 11 p.m. in 14 of its 24-hour stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York, spokesman Robert Keane told Progressive Grocer. Each event will feature a costume party, at which the top five contestants will win a free copy of the new novel, as well as games. The stores will serve cake and other refreshments will be served.

This is the first time the chain has held such an event, Keane noted, and it marks a deliberate competitive stroke for the operator. "We really want to drive home the point that we can compete with retailers in categories other than just food," he explained. Along those lines, the chain recently also rebranded its nonfoods entertainment sections with a new name, "Best Sellers!", to accompany a product lineup that includes not only books, but also CDs, DVDs, magazines, and video games.

Keane said Stop & Shop has an edge over some other competitors in tonight's promotion. "Since these stores are open 24 hours, there will be no standing in line or waiting for our doors to open," he said. "Each store involved in the special promotion will have between 750 and 1,000 books ready to sell."

On a smaller but similar scale, Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix Super Markets is hosting a release party tonight at one of its locations, in Jupiter, Fla., spokeswoman Maria Brous said. The event begins at 11 p.m., with a costume contest, readings from some of the best of Harry Potter, food, and raffles with prizes. The book will be on sale through next week for $17.99, she said.

Grand Rapids, Mich.-based supercenter operator Meijer said last week in a statement that it will hold book release parties tonight in its 171 stores throughout Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, and Ohio. A costume contest and games will be included. Among the prizes: Meijer $10 gift certificates. Meijer's Web site lists its sale price of the book at $14.87, and includes news about a contest where the winner gets a weeklong "Harry Potter" tour of London.

Meanwhile, at least one Kroger store in the Houston area will host a Harry Potter party at 11 p.m. A Harry Potter look-alike will arrive by limousine at midnight to help hand out books and greet his fans, according to a report in the Houston Business Journal. The party will include a costume contest with prizes, beverages, and snacks, as well as an extra check-out stand to avoid waiting in line to purchase books. Kroger's Web site advertises the book at $17.99, which it says is 40 percent off the manufacturer's suggested sale price.

-- Jenny McTaggart
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