'Harry Potter' setting records

LAWRENCEVILLE - Across Gwinnett, copies of the latest Harry Potter book have been flying off the shelves as though bewitched.

Local libraries' copies of "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" have all vanished, checked out by eager fans. Bookstores have reported brisk sales all weekend, especially in the wee hours of Saturday morning, when throngs of fans crammed into shops for the many book release "Potter Parties" held across the county.

Gwinnett County Public Libraries had stocked 435 copies of the book, and as of Monday, all their copies had been checked out, said John Roop a worker at the Five Forks branch.

"We've still got 954 requests for the book," Roop said.

Fans have been frantically awaiting the release of "Half-Blood Prince," the sixth installment in the seven-book series by J.K. Rowling. Children, teens and adults alike couldn't wait to find out what happens to Harry in his sixth year at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As of Saturday, their wait was over.

In the hours leading up to the release, many local "Potter Parties" featured face-painting, wand-making, trivia, bingo, giveaways, magicians and costume contests.

"We had close to 400 to 500 people," said Bruce Fussell, manager of the Barnes & Noble in Duluth, of the store's celebration, which culminated in the 12:01 a.m. release of the book. "It was fabulous. There were lots of different activities, it was lots of fun and the customers were patient, friendly and glad to be there."

Some fans celebrated the release by dressing up as Harry, evil Lord Voldemort or other characters from the book.

"A lot of people dressed up, some to more of an extent than others," said Amanda Stone, manager at Books-A-Million at Discover Mills. "We must have had at least 100 people dressed up."

As midnight approached, the stores prepared for the storm of customers. Each store found its own way to keep the line orderly, such as distributing numbered wristbands or tickets to prevent everyone from piling into line at once.

It took Barnes & Noble in Duluth 90 minutes to distribute all the books to the crowd. Borders in Buford finished "a little after 2 o'clock," said manager Joan Dudzinski. "We had five registers running and a bagger at each."

Books-A-Million managed to clear its crowd out by 12:15 a.m., using six registers, with two people using each one.

Not everyone bought the book at midnight. Books-A-Million sold at least 900 copies on Saturday alone, only 400 of which were sold at midnight.

Because of the immense popularity of the Potter books, it can be tough to avoid story spoilers, especially for those who didn't snag the book as soon as it was released.

"I haven't read any reviews. I want to keep it secret," said Rebecca Alvear, shortly after picking up her copy of the book from Barnes & Noble in Duluth on Monday.