October 22, 2016
Many found the Harry Potter Festival in Chestnut Hill on Saturday more a muggled mess than magical, due to crowding and no visible attempts at crowd control.
Shayna Delrio and her two small children, ages seven and three, were dressed for the festival, but unprepared of the madness. They took refuge in a store.
Her antsy children sat atop a stack of newspapers near the checkout at the Weaver’s Way, a food co-op, while dad, Jordan Pothast, stood in an interminable line.
“I would like to personally learn some spells for next time. Maybe levitation,” Delrio deadpanned.
Then her face brightened.
“Or ride a broom!”
Delrio, wearing a costume and carrying a white owl, understands the root of the problem: The former children who grew up on Harry Potter books and movies are now adults who are having children. And those young children – like hers – have all become Potter fans.
But the Flemington, New Jersey resident didn’t know what to make of the failure by organizers to manage or direct the huge crowd, which she called “overwhelming.”
She added facetiously that pushing a stroller on cobblestoned Germantown Avenue “is a great workout.”
Rain compounded the crowding issue, making uneven cobblestones slick. And many festival-goers carried umbrellas, blocking the way for others nearby.
Lines leading to booths meandered into the main flow of the avenue, the result being a virtual standstill in the center of the festival, between 8500 Germantown Ave. and 8300 Germantown Ave.
Comments overheard by a reporter while walking the avenue were:
“I’m regretting this.”
“This is insane.”
“Just because you say ‘Excuse me!’ doesn’t mean I have to move."
“I’m getting stabbed by wands.”
“I stood for five minutes and moved four feet.”
“My mom’s up ahead and she has a heart condition. I have to get to her!”
“This is crazy!”
While businesses tried to cope with the crowd, some just gave up.
Iron Hill Brewery at first posted its wait time for a table. But soon they simply posted: “Sorry, we’re full,” turning people away from even waiting for a table.
The Philadelphia Print Shop’s owner, Dan Cresswell, coped by selling specially commissioned maps with a Hogwarts-theme of Chestnut Hill, the neighborhood which hosted the festival.
While there were lots of window-shoppers looking at his antique prints, more than 100 people bought a Potter-inspired map.
He sold them outside his 40-year-old store as a way of dealing with the crowds.
Anthony and Shari Borneo and their two sons, Tyler and Noah, traveled more than an hour from Hopatcong, New Jersey.
The boys were enthused. Anthony was coping. And Shari was fervently wishing she was somewhere else – even though she’s fine with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park in Florida.
“I could care less,” said Shari as her family regrouped outside a closed business. “I was aggravated by the crowds and I wanted to kill,” she said after the family’s first slog down the avenue. “I would like to be home.”
As aggravations, she mentioned lines that blocked the way and didn’t budge, missing or unreachable characters for selfies and an “astronomical” line for a souvenir mug that went on. And on. And on.
But Tyler, 11, was ready for more despite the crowds and not being able to do everything they’d hoped for due to the crowds.
“I’ve loved Harry Potter since second grade,” he enthused as Shari rolled her eyes.
She was preparing to walk to a nearby quidditch game – like lacrosse on broomsticks. She had thought she could get a bus ride to the field – but couldn’t.
A security guard said she’d been told by many that the festival was far more crowded and seemingly less prepared than in past years.
She also said the overall complaint was the festival was not organized well enough to cope with the sheer numbers.
In response to a call for comment, the Chestnut Hill Business District, the sponsor of the event, delivered the following statement from Martha Sharkey, its executive director.
“The Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Festival is a community fan festival that has organically grown over the past six years," Sharkey said. "Based on the attendance of the 2015 festival, the Chestnut Hill Business District made every effort to accommodate the needs of our visitors, including closing down our main thoroughfare (Germantown Avenue) while elevating entertainment and food options for our guests.
"We are amazed that this free festival in our small community has attracted such interest and so many fans, and are thankful to everyone that joined us this weekend," she added. "As the festival just wrapped, we are reviewing the overall visitor experience and will be sure to take into consideration all feedback for future events."
Beverly Minton, who was working at the Chestnut Hill Flower and Garden stand, about two blocks down the avenue from the festival, said the festival had killed her business.
“I had maybe five customers. I sold two pumpkins. Zero mums. A couple of people wanted to recharge their phones or use our bathroom.
“Two wanted to use my phone’s GPS. One group sat on the benches in front of my display. Two asked me to take their picture. We took in maybe $75 all day,” she said.
She also sold one woman two apples she didn’t want to have wrapped.
“She’d had a panic attack in the crowd and wanted something she could eat right away. She bought them to eat and calm down,” said Minton.