HUDSON — The crisp crinkle of tactile, paper pages being turned in a favorite book is a sound that isn’t going out of style any time soon at the Learned Owl Book Shop.
The Learned Owl is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, with a Sept. 23, 4 to 6 p.m. open house and anniversary party. The public is welcome to share memories of “The Owl” over the years by emailing email@example.com or writing in a memory book at the front counter of the store at 204 N. Main St.
In addition to food and music, The Learned Owl will have special sales, raffles, giveaways and craft a special T-shirt celebrating five decades in business.
The book shop was founded in 1968 when Hudson resident Jean Isabel and her husband, Bob, founded the shop with another partner.
Current owner Kate Schlademan — previously featured in Part I of this story — bought the Learned Owl in 2013 from Liz Murphy, who bought the book shop in 1983.
Murphy, now the director of Destination Hudson, said she and Elaine Ober were attending a women's business group in the early 1980s and wanted to start a business. They thought about a coffee shop — but neither one drank coffee.
Then someone said there was a bookstore for sale in Hudson.
Murphy, who's father was an English professor and her mother a librarian, thought it would be an easy part-time job.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” Murphy said. “I read but didn't know kids' books.”
When someone asked for “Pat the Bunny,” she didn't know how to classify it — or even where it was in the store.
They used a Rolodex with the titles and hash marks for the number of copies, Murphy said.
“After closing, we'd pour a glass of wine, open a bag of chips and figure out what we did that day,” she said.
Soon after the purchase in 1983, Murphy’s mother wrote her a scathing letter, inquiring in no uncertain terms whether she had lost her mind in her choice to purchase the book store. When Murphy won the Hudson Chamber of Commerce award for best small business, Murphy invited her mother to the ceremony and read the letter to the audience.
“The Learned Owl was my life,” Murphy said. “The people became my family and each generation brought their kids.”
Murphy also introduced the book shop dog, beginning with BJ and ending with Ruby, who retired when the store was sold to Schlademan.
Murphy said when the big box stores conducted a midnight celebration for the fourth Harry Potter book, an idea came to the fore.
“I said to my staff, we can do that for the fifth book,” Murphy said. “I went up and down Main Street telling them about Harry Potter.”
About nine businesses agreed to close at 5 p.m. and reopen at 8 p.m., just as Diagon Alley is described in the Harry Potter books.
“I was the first independent book store to do it, and we were doing it up big,” Murphy said.
Reserve Inn became the train station Platform 9-3/4, The Grey Colt became Ollivander's wand shop, the owner of Land of Make Believe performed magic tricks and The Learned Owl was transformed into the Flourish and Blotts book store.
When a television station picked up the story and aired a skit between Murphy as Professor Minerva McGonagall and a former staff member as Harry Potter, the story went national.
Murphy, who expected about 400 people to attend the inaugural event, realized that she would need to find more books — and ultimately called the police when the crowd swelled to 4,000 and Main Street had to be closed to traffic.
“I don't think the police have forgiven me yet,” Murphy said. “There was no First & Main [which opened in 2004] and no place to go, but it was magical. It was like Times Square on New Year's Eve.”
Two more parties would follow in 2005 and 2007 and grow to 14,000 people, many of them dressed as characters in the book, Murphy said.
“It took on a life of its own,” she said. “The Harry Potter series started a resurgence of reading among young people, especially for boys.”
It also affected adult readers.
“As long as people were coming in for their kids, they would pick up something for themselves,” Murphy said.
Editor’s Note: This is Part II of a series on The Learned Owl, its current and past owners and its 50 years as an iconic business in Hudson.
Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or firstname.lastname@example.org