Some Roslyn residents, weary of the ever-present tourists, wish "Northern Exposure" would take its moose and head south in the ratings

Yakima Herald-Republic - 9/12/93

by Joseph Rose

ROSLYN - He is what the locals call a "Looky Lou."

Dressed in Eddie Bauer clothes, the thin, well-tanned tourist strolls out into the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. He stops and aims his camera down Roslyn's main drag - four blocks of stone buildings, vacant lots and tall, narrow buildings with false fronts.

The Looky Lou has seen this place before, on his TV: Cicely, Alaska, the fictional town on "Northern Exposure."

He starts to fire off his camera's shutter ...

Roslyn's most famous landmark is a favorite
spot for memory-seeking tourists.
(Photos by Roy Musitelli)

As the rattling pickup bears down behind him, the startled tourist jumps out of the way. The vehicle's driver screams obscenities out his open window and extends his middle finger as he motors down the street.

Two men, wearing weathered flannel shirts and dirty jeans, have been watching from the nearby stone steps leading into The Brick Tavern. They giggle.

"That Lou almost got bucked right out of town," one says.

"Yeah, that'll teach him to stand in the middle of the street," the other says. "Tourists think this place is a movie set. The last thing they expect is real people living here."

The men swagger into The Brick. leaving a hot summer day outside where some 200 Looky Lous peer into shop windows, click their cameras at anything rustic and don "Northern Exposure" T-shirts along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Since the former mining town started moonlighting as Cicely on the hit CBS series in 1990, fame has brought legions of tourists from all over the world to Roslyn, creating mixed feelings among its residents.

Sure, the tourists are putting wads of of cash in the pockets of cash in the pockets of local merchants. But many worry that all of this new-found exposure will permanently damage the once-relaxed atmosphere of this tiny town nestled in the nether woods of Kittias County.

Traffic. Sniffy attitudes. Looky Lous trudging across lawns of private homes and treating the locals like sideshow players. Increased shoplifting. A lot of Roslynites can't wait until the movie crews pack up and the tourists stop taking the Interstate 90 exit to Roslyn.

"Yes, the town has come alive and business is great, but Roslyn is not the same beautiful town it used to be - it's a bustling little city now," said Shirley, who grew up in nearby Cle Elum and retired to Roslyn from Seattle in 1989.

She asked that her last name be kept anonymous - "This is, after all, a small town and people do like to talk." A "No Trespassing" sign, meant for tourists, standsoutside her old two-story house on a forested hill overlooking town.

"The heart of Roslyn is dying every day, thanks to these tourists and movie groovies (local jargon for "Northern Exposure" film crews)," she said."I remember a nice little town where everybody knew everybody without traffic jams, rudeness andtrash. I'm not amused. I retired here hoping for some peace, not Hollywood and big city attitudes in a small town."

Retired people and loggers make up most of Roslyn's population of 875. According to Shirley, most watch "Northern Exposure" just to see their hometown; others refuse to see wtch because they resent the Hollywood "facade."

"This isn't Alaska, this is Washington state," Shirley said. "But when these tourists come here, they all call it Cicely. It's weird to see how Hollywood can create things that aren't there."

With "Northern Exposure" gifts to fill a visitor's every wish, the town has become a hot spot for tourist dollars.

Back in the winter of 1990, the creators decided Roslyn was the perfect double for a remote contemporary Alaskan town. Alaska, of course, was out of the question.It was too far, too cold and too expensive. Roslyn was available for only $100 per day and only an hour and a half from Seattle, where interior shots for the show are filmed.

"Northern Exposure" centers on the character of Dr. Joel Fleischman, a graduate of Columbia University who has to repay the state of Alaska for financing his schooling by spending four years in Cicely as the town's only physician. The fish-out-of-water doctor is surrounded by as assortment of eccentric and free-spirited townspeople - a grouchy former astronaut searching for adventure, a former beauty queen searching for self-respect, an ex-convict searching for truth, a Midwestern tomboy pilot searching for love and self-esteem.

Dan Dusek, who is the show's location manager, said Roslyn tourists are sometimes more interested in the non-human stars - KBHR Radio, The Brick, Ruth-Anne's General Store, Roslyn's Cafe - than the human stars of the show. Dusek and his crew who are now charged $200 per day by the city, only film about 35 days of exteriors over a 10-month period. During shooting days, tourists stand in flocks and watch from a distance. But it doesn't matter if the crew is shooting, Dusek said, the tourists come into town for a look.

"The number of days we shoot in Roslyn depends on what the scripts call for," Dusek said. "Tourists can only see Maggie or Fleischman on certain days. But Cicely is always here."

Dusek said he remembers what Roslyn used to be like before the show became a regualar in the Nielsen Top 20 and the tourists started driving their Winnebagos into town.

"It was dead," he said. "But all of this (crowds of people coming to Roslyn) was going to take place sooner or later. This is a wonderful little mountain town right here on the I-90 corridor. It isn't like people sat around watching the TV show and said, "Hey Marge, let's move to Roslyn'"

Before residents became disenchanted with tourists, resentful nicknames and obscenities yelled from moving pickup trucks were aimed at the film crew. People around town grew tired of being captives to a filming schedule: the main street being blocked to traffic as the cameras rolled, directors barking though bullhorns for silence, totem poles being erected throughout town, and glaring movie lights being used to film scenes late into the night.

Crew members were referred to in the local jargon as "movie groovies" and "mooseheads," after the moose that wanders around a deserted pre-dawn Cicely during the show's opening credits. Nearly 200 residents were so afraid their town was being commandeered by Holywood that they signed a petition two years ago asking the mayor and the City Council to give residents more say in when and where the crews filmed. The city government refused.

The wrath against the movie people eventually died down. Now, tourists are the popular target. In some circles, Looky Lous are less liked than the west-side "206ers" - so named for the Puget Sound area code - who are making an exodus to the region and are blamed for a nearly 200 percent increase in area property taxes and land prices.

"Why should we have to go through all this brouhaha?" asked Pennsylvania Avenue resident Bobbie Woodell. "I'm always having confrontations with tourists. They think they can do anything, They think they can picnic on people's lawns. They think they can park anywhere they want. They treat us like novelties because we sell earrings made out of real moose doo doo in gift shops."

Woodell came back to Roslyn, her birthplace and childhood home, from Oregon in 1987 to bury her husband and "to be left alone." She said she has become so disgruntled with the current tourist boom that she has considered selling her house and moving. Woodell added that she is just one of many frustrated residents.

"So many people have horror stories to tell around here," she said. "The tourists and the show have runined things here."

"The biggest change is people in this town are just plain rude to each other now. It used to be that people living here were kind, gentle, honest, helpful. I remember walking taking an hour to get down the street because people would stop and talk to me. Now people try to stay away from the downtown, and when they have to go there, it's a fast in-and-out."

A plastic No Parking sign now hangs on Woodell's front gate. She said two cars belonging to tourists have smashed though the wood fence around her front yard on separate occasions.

"Parking is a big problem in town now," she said. "I'm always chasingt away people who want to park their cars in front of my house. People who live here have to go halfway to Seattle to park. I've never known a town this small to have traffic jams and parking problems."

Down the street, the local hardware store, post office and bank have errected makeshift "Parking for Customers Only" or "10 Minute Parking" signs. Almost every shop window features "Northern Exposure" merchandise. A good share of the businesses have signs declaring "Restrooms for Patrons Only."

Roslyn Bakery owner Margaret Heide is the former city clerk who resigned because she was tired of the city's "out-of-hand bureaucracy" and decided to capitalize on the tourism boom by opening a business in July. Heide said City Hall was receiving about 400 calls from tourists every week.

"They wanted us to act as their chamber of commerce," she said. "It made us get behind on work."

Mayor Jack Denning said Roslynites upset with the tourist boom are as welcome around City Hall as a freezing Coho wind. Since the town - plagued with hard times since the last coal mine closed down in the 1960s - started showing up on Monday-night television, he said revenue from sales tax has jumped 300 percent and 11 new businesses have opened. Local shops and restaurants have also started hiring," he said.

"This kind of business is great for the community," Denning said. "I've been here during the lean times, when mining, construction and logging jobs have come and gone, so I know that we need this.

"We'll always have the people here who say, 'I've got my piece of heaven, to hell with you.' But we have got to shift with the times. I don't know if I want Roslyn to go back to the way it was."

Denning conceded that many of the tourists who come into town have little regard for its history and its beauty, but he said he can tolerate a "belly full of rude tourists and trash" for a healthy economy.


Visitors to Roslyn flock to the shade of The Brick Tavern while waiting to catch a glimpse of a filming session.

He is not as forgiving with newspaper reporters, though. Because of what he calls "journalistic crucifixion" of Roslyn in the press, Denning put a gag order on city employees. No one talks to the press until they get the mayor's okay.

For more proof that this mountain hamlet may be developing a big-city attitude, visit the old mining company store, Northwest Improvement. Now called memory makers, it is a gift shop with green, red and blue neon sighns tattooing the windows. Amid the army of "Northern Exposure" caps, water bottles, Frisbees, key chains, long johns and shot glasses inside, there are posted signs with an urban feel: "Notice - Due to shoplifting, this store is now monitored by cameras," "Please no videotaping inside," and "$20 minimum on credit card purchases."

"It may seem a little unlike a small-town gift shop, but I hardly know any of the people who come in here anymore," said Roxy Sherrell, Memory Makers owner. "Everybody in town is caught up in this boom. It turns revenue which is good. If there's no industry here, there's no town. When 'Northern Exposure' folds up, so goes the revenue."

Northern Exposure is Copyright Universal City Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Created 2/21/02
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