Four open computers and frantic clicking couldn’t snag Jillian Hiscock tickets to Michelle Obama’s Wednesday book event in St. Paul when they went on sale in December.
The moment they hit the web, the St. Paul resident found herself jostled in online queues as the seats she desired in the upper level of the Xcel Energy Center disappeared, with the event virtually selling out within minutes.
“We were trying everything and couldn’t get in,” said Hiscock, 35.
A Twitter lament two weeks ago about her ticket predicament landed her two seats for $180 from a friend who no longer could go to a tour that’s been packing arenas and showcasing the enormous popularity of the nation’s first black first lady.
Some seats for Obama’s Twin Cities stop have sold for upward of $800 and $1,000. On the secondary market and sites like stubhub.com, listings started around $170 Monday.
It’s a price thousands have been willing to pay to hear Obama speak about her bestselling memoir, “Becoming,” published in November. She visited 10 cities for 12 sold-out events that wrapped in December and then announced a second tour, which includes the St. Paul stop.
“There is a lot of energy around this show,” said Jora Bart, an Xcel Energy Center spokeswoman. “We host a lot of concerts and sporting events here, but this is something totally different.”
In fact, it’s the first book tour that Xcel has hosted, Bart said.
But this is no ordinary book event. Obama’s tour has gone all out with spotlights, rock music and celebrity guests that have included the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon.
On Wednesday, Obama will be joined by Minneapolis native Michele Norris, a journalist and author.
Of course, there will be plenty of merch, from tiny onesies to shirts with inspirational maxims.
Obama’s book topped the bestseller list a week after publication and has sold 5.6 million copies in the United States and Canada.
The memoir has offered a boom in business to local book stores. Months after publication, a steady stream of customers are still swinging by to pick up copies.
Common Good Books in St. Paul normally puts a book in one place, but Obama’s cheerful cover called out to customers in stacks at each of the store’s two registers as well as from the bestseller table near the front door.
“We sold several dozen on the day that it was released, which is crazy,” said David Enyeart, the store’s manager. “It was a huge book for us at Christmas. It was far and away the biggest book of the year.”
Enyeart said the book has enjoyed “broad appeal” among store customers.
“It’s a rock star kind of thing, which is awesome for a book,” he said.
After listening to the audiobook, Fiona Quick, of Minneapolis, made plans to make an evening of Wednesday’s event, going to dinner with a friend beforehand.
Quick, 50, said she’s seen some social media chatter about the lack of ticket availability and affordability. She saved up to buy hers, paying more than $200 per ticket.
“They were very, very expensive but very much worth it,” she said.
Lindy Vincent, of Wayzata, sat at her computer on the day the tickets went on sale, poised to pull the trigger for seats for her friend, Lisa Saul Paylor, and their husbands.
The friends waited on the phone together to see who got to the front of the line first. Vincent said she paid $260 per ticket for her and her husband.
Vincent met Michelle Obama in 2008, when she was campaigning for her husband in Minnesota. She snapped a photo with her daughter, who also read the book, with the first lady.
“I just love her,” said Vincent, 53. “I think Michelle is cross-generational and cross-racial … just everything.”
When the former first lady steps onstage Wednesday, Vincent will be there cheering in a shirt emblazoned with the book cover.