The Fairy Tale Continues
Story by Sarah Gordon. Photos by Clayton Perry
It was 2011 when Emma Swan, sporting a red leather jacket, first rolled into Storybrooke in a yellow Volkswagen Beetle with a mysterious little boy named Henry. While Stevestonites are familiar with filming in the village, nobody could predict the magnitude Once Upon a Time would have on Steveston Village; it has been one of television’s highest rated shows for the last four years.
The fifth season has now begun and the show is increasing in popularity. This past summer large crowds of fans came out to watch filming take place, hopeful for a glimpse of their favourite actors.
Curious to hear how Once Upon a Time has impacted our community; I spoke to some Steveston merchants and Tourism Richmond for their impressions.
Kelly Krull is the manager of Splash Toy Shop and is a big fan of the show. Located in the heart of Storybrooke, Splash becomes Neighbor’s Five & Dime.
She says, “Once Upon a Time has brought magic to Steveston.” On a daily basis she sees out of town visitors who have discovered Steveston purely because of the program.
“The energy fans bring makes the village shine,” she says. People of all ages make the trip here in hope of catching a filming day, and if not, they are excited to stop and pose for photos in front of the landmark Storybrooke buildings they know so well.
“Once Upon a Time has become a draw to Steveston, attracting visitors that we have never seen before. It’s like Jack and the Beanstalk, the bean has been planted.” Kelly Krull
The cast and crew are extremely supportive of local businesses and will come in to look around and shop on their breaks. She reports Splash recently had a visit en masse from Captain Hook, Prince Charming, Snow White and the Evil Queen. She says Henry is also a regular customer.
David Gordon’s business Pieces transforms into Purbeck Shoes. He says, “The village is still very much Steveston.” Like other merchants, he makes a point of acting as an ambassador as he directs people to local sights, from Garry Point Park to the fishing docks, museums, and the array of local restaurants, shops and services.
He points out the show has brought a whole new group of tourists to the area. “There are countless stories of out of town visitors, particularly from the United States, who are coming to see where the show is filmed.”
“Fans have reported how enchanted they are with the village, and note that they would never have come here if it were not for the show. They often have an assortment of purchases from different shops in their hands, and inevitably ask where is a good place to have lunch or dinner. It is not unusual to see fans return two or three days in
a row. “ David Gordon
Fans include Metro Vancouver residents who enjoy watching the show being filmed and then seeing it transform through the magic of Hollywood onto their television screen. Americans, in particular Seattle residents, and a fair number of international fans make the trip out to Steveston purely to experience the magic of walking the streets of Storybrooke.
Gordon says, “One couple from Israel arranged an eight hour layover through the Vancouver airport just so they could come and see Storybrooke.”
The Kollakis family, owners of the Steveston Cannery Cafe, report they have had people come into the restaurant expecting the interior to be identical to “Granny’s Diner” and they have to explain that filming takes place on a set in a studio.
Trevor Kollakis says, “Fans like to come in and have lunch, and say they have eaten at Granny’s. We have definitely seen an increase of customers. We have been surprised with how many people have been visiting from Mexico.”
Nick Cohen, owner of Romania Country Bread says, “Everyone asks why I keep the sign “Storybrooke Country Bread” up all the time. It is very convenient that they have me representing a bakery in the show, and my business is a bakery. Also it brings good business to me.”
“The television show is an event that brings action to the village, when they are here filming and afterwards with the fans.”
Joe and Sara Cocker’s business, Nikaido, masquerades as Standard Clocks.
Joe Cocker chuckles when he reports, “We have a good laugh when people come into our shop wanting to buy the clocks in the window, or asking us to change their watch battery. We had one customer who was absolutely insistent we sell him a clock in the window, and could not understand why we would have items that were not for sale.”
They have seen a huge increase in customer traffic since the show began, with clients also making unusual requests for items seen in the show like chipped teacups.
Sara Cocker reveals, “Our favourite is when we have been travelling outside of Canada, and explaining to someone where we are from. There have been several occasions when we make the connection of Once Upon a Time being filmed in Steveston, and then great excitement ensues with many questions asked of us.”
Vince Morlet, owner of Tapenade Bistro and vice president of the Steveston Merchants Association says, “I have spoken to a number of cast members who are very complementary of Steveston, and remark on how welcoming the village has been to them.”
He recalls his favourite filming story from season four when a scene was filmed inside his restaurant. No alterations were made to Tapenade’s interior other than changing the tablecloths.
“After the program aired, we had all kinds of buzz on social media, particularly from the United States. I had many telephone calls asking about us, and in turn many fans coming and dining, taking pictures showing that we were not a film set, but the actual restaurant they saw in the show … minus the name Tony’s Diner. It makes me laugh, some have asked if we would consider changing our name.”
Tourism Richmond has operated the Visitor Centre out of the Steveston Museum and post office building for the last three years. During filming it becomes the Storybrooke Post Office.
Visitor Services Manager Lori Gelz says, “In that time we have witnessed the tourism related to Once Upon a Time increase substantially from small groups in the first season to now hundreds of people who not only come for filming days but plan their entire vacation around visiting “Storybrooke” and Steveston.”
“Because they love the quaint charm of the village, the easy public transit and beautiful scenery, we are now seeing visitors returning for a second or third time in the hopes to see filming and spotting the actors.” Lori Gelz
Early in 2015 Once Upon a Time broadcast a special pre-show segment entitled “Secrets of Storybrooke.” Steveston was in the spotlight as the writers discussed why they chose this location for Storybrooke.
She says, “Within days of this airing, we had people showing up in Steveston who had driven from Oregon when they learned how close we were to them.”
In 2014 just over 20 percent of the groups that came into the Visitor Centre stated Once Upon a Time was the main reason for their visit to the village. In 2015, specifically this past summer, the percentage skyrocketed to just over 50 percent.
Visitors from Washington State and California make up a large portion of Steveston’s American visitors, however, there has been a big increase in people from all of the eastern and southern United States including Alabama, Arkansas, North and South Carolina, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Tennessee.
“Once Upon a Time is hugely popular in Australia, Brazil, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (to name a few) and is finding a new audience all the time as more people discover the show and start watching it on Netflix.” Lori Gelz
Like other neighbouring businesses, the Visitor Centre staff hears many good stories. A mother and daughter stayed at the Steveston Hotel for more than a week, tried different restaurants in the village each night, shopped in the stores, so much so the merchants got to know them by name. The mother even got a Once Upon a Time themed tattoo.
Gelz is optimistic that Once Upon a Time will leave a bright and long term legacy.
“I see large groups of fans meeting in Steveston, spending many days in the area, and spending their money throughout the village and also planning future trips. Who doesn’t want more customers and more business? This show and the long-term tourism will carry on long after the show ends. We still see fans who are huge movie and TV buffs who have gone to Hope to see where Rambo First Blood was filmed and that was 30 years ago!”