Where’s Waldo? The search is on at Missoula businesses

Mara Panich-Crouch, owner of Fact and Fiction, organizes the annual “Where’s Waldo?” event and serves as Find Waldo Local Headquarters. (Dave Stalling/Missoula Current)

Renowned worldwide traveler Waldo is visiting Missoula this month and, as usual – despite his colorful outfit, he is tough to find. 

Actually, there are lots of him, hiding out in 25 businesses and other locations throughout town, and there are rewards for those who do find him.

“It shocks me every year how many people stop by looking for him,” said Aimee McQuilkin, owner of Betty’s Divine, one of the stores participating. “We get hundreds. And many say, ‘This is the best thing!’ When I was first approached about it I questioned it. I thought, ‘Are people really going to do this?’ Well, yes, they do.”

The annual, international “Shop Local, Find Waldo” event is sponsored by Candlewick Press, publishers of the popular “Where’s Wally?” and “Where’s Waldo?” (“Waldo” in North America; “Wally” elsewhere) books created in 1986 by English children’s author and illustrator Martin Handford. The puzzle books include various scenes, usually with lots of people, and readers are challenged to find Waldo who is most always dressed in a red and white striped shirt, bobble hat and glasses.

Waldo hiding out at Lake Missoula Tea Company. (Dave Stalling/Missoula Current

This is the eighth year the search has been held in Missoula, organized by Fact & Fiction Books, the “Find Waldo Local Headquarters.” This year, Waldo’s friend Wenda is also hiding in the book store. 

“It’s fun, and I think it really helps a lot of downtown businesses,” said Mara Panich-Crouch, owner of Fact & Fiction. “We organize it every year, and when we ask businesses if they want to participate again, none of them ever say ‘no.’”

Hide and Sole hid seven Waldos this year, and although participants only need to find one they usually want to keep looking for others. “It’s mostly locals who come looking, and people who are in town for a few days,” said cashier Ashley Eisenstein. “It definitely helps business. It’s been pretty busy this summer. We’ve had a record-breaking month. It’s been a great summer thus far.”

Panich-Crouch expressed similar sentiments. “I don’t have the numbers; it’s still too early, but it feels a lot busier this summer. And I think parents like the Waldo search, because they can shop while their kids are looking.”

To participate, people can pick up a “Passport” at Fact & Fiction, then collect a “store stamp (or signature)” for each of the Waldos found at various locations. Those who collect at least 10 stamps or signatures get a “I Found Waldo” button (limited to first 125). Those who collect 20-25 get a button and are entered in a drawing for prizes that includes “Where’s Waldo?” books.  The search ends July 31st.

In addition to Fact & Fiction, Hide & Sole, Betty’s Divine and Lake Missoula Tea Company, Waldo is also hiding out in the following places: A Carousel for Missoula; Clyde Coffee; Dana Gallery; Missoula Public Library; Artists’ Shop; Jeannette Rankin Peace Center; Bathing Beauties Beads; The Montana Scene; Runner’s Edge; Missoula Art Museum; Noteworthy Paper and Press; Hazel and Fawn; Soul City Dry Goods/Whippersnappers; Butterfly Herbs; Liquid Planet; Imagination Station; UpCycled; the Trailhead; Mary’s Mountain Cookies; Green Light and MSO Hub.