BELLOWS FALLS -- He's back.
Waldo, the lovable children's book character known for his stealth-like hiding ability, is once again popping up around the village and families are encouraged to go on the hunt for him to win prizes. Six-inch cardboard figures of Waldo and his faithful dog Woof will be well-hidden in 26 local businesses up until Aug. 2 as part of the Shop Local Movement.
Pat Fowler, owner of Village Square Booksellers and a member of Bellows Falls Downtown Development Alliance's promotions committee, said the "Find Waldo" activity became a pastime two summers ago when 100 independent bookstores throughout the country participated. She told the Reformer she started the activity within the village last year and it was met with critical acclaim.
"It's a good way for people to get to know all the different businesses," she said Friday. "One customer mentioned it's amazing because people -- business owners or workers -- smile when they see a child coming through the door because they know they're looking for Waldo and they make a game out of it.
"It's a nice project for the family to do," Fowler continued. "They take a nice little walk around town and visit the little shops."
It is free to participate and anyone who wishes to can get a "Find Waldo Local" Bellows Falls passport at Village Square Booksellers at 32 The Square, with the names of all the participating business establishments, and get their passport signed for each Waldo they spot. The search lasts all of July and ends Aug.
The first 125 participants to get their passports stamped or signed at 15 or more sites can bring their passports back to Village Square Booksellers to collect prizes -- a $1-off coupon for a "Where's Waldo" book and an "I Found Waldo" button. Collecting store signatures at 20 or more businesses will earn Waldo seekers entry in a grand prize drawing on Aug. 2 during Rockingham Old Home Days, with a six-volume deluxe set of Waldo books as the top prize. The hunt will conclude with a "Where's Waldo" party at Village Square Booksellers, which will host Waldo-centric activities and a Waldo-themed cake.
The participating businesses are Village Square Booksellers, Halladays Florist, J&H Hardware, J&H Sporting Goods, Newton Business, Valley Café, The Final Cut Video, Flat Iron Exchange, Vermont Pretzel & Cookie Co., Greater Rock Fitness, the Greater Falls Chamber of Commerce, Shona Grill, Miss Bellows Falls Diner, Lisai's Corner Deli, Arch Bridge Books, the Bellows Falls Opera House, People's United Bank, Busy Bees, Coyote Moon, Windham Antiques Center, Rockingham Library, Athens Pizza, Dari Joy, The Rock & Hammer, Scrapbook Nook and Thyme to Cook.
Thyme to Cook, located at 660 Rockingham Road, is one of the additions to the list of participating businesses and Fowler said its role in the summertime activity should be eye-opening for area residents.
"Some people don't even know we have a cookware shop right in town," she said.
Diana Jones, the director of operations at Windham Antiques Center, said about 100 people perused the store last year in search of the elusive Waldo.
"I think it's a great thing for the kids. It gives them something to do, it's good advertisement and the kids have a lot of fun doing it," she said. "When they're walking around looking for Waldo, their faces light up when they see the antiques. It's very cute."
She said many children enter the store in search of Waldo and wind up asking all sorts of questions about the antiques on display.
"Where's Waldo?" is the creation of Martin Handford, who first published the character in 1987. There are now more than 61 million Waldo books in print worldwide and they've been translated into more than 30 languages, according to a statement from BFDDA.
For more information about searching for Waldo in Bellows Falls, call Village Square Booksellers at 802-463-4270.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.