Chamber wants to bring back ‘Sleepy Hollow’

  • Posted: Thursday, May 23, 2013 1:22 a.m.

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Chamber of Commerce has launched an effort to bring back “Sleepy Hollow,” asking businesses to share positive experiences they had when 20th Century Fox filmed the pilot here in March.

The studio is shopping around for a location to film the supernatural TV series, which will air Mondays on Fox starting in September.

The chamber’s campaign comes after some business owners voiced concerns about losing money when the city closed many downtown streets for five nights and half of a Saturday to accommodate filming. About a dozen restaurant owners and merchants met last week with city officials to ask for changes the next time a film project comes to downtown.

“Help us bring back ‘Sleepy Hollow!’ ” the chamber posted Monday on Facebook. “… We are requesting ‘good news’ from the business community and how the filming has affected you.”

The chamber wants local business owners to share positive comments with family, friends, Facebook and the community through letters to the Post.

Many member businesses are concerned about negative comments about “Sleepy Hollow” filming, according to the chamber.

“We are just trying to get business people to understand the potential economic impact the film industry in general could have in our community,” said Elaine Spalding, chamber president. “We are encouraging people to send letters to the editor with their positive experiences.”

Businesses that benefited during the week of filming include the Holiday Inn, where much of the 200-member cast and crew stayed, and Tastebuds Coffee Shop, which saw sales jump by 30 percent. Tastebuds has since closed for unrelated reasons.

Dave Redden, general manager of the Holiday Inn, did not disclose how many rooms “Sleepy Hollow” booked but said any time a large group books a block of rooms for more than a couple nights, the hotel sees an exponential increase in business.

An uptick in hotel occupancy means more money circulating in the community as people buy gas, food and merchandise, Redden said in an email to tourism Executive Director James Meacham.

“Aside from gains in occupancy and revenues, the film industry creates buzz,” Redden said. “It puts cities on the map (and) can create a fan base eager to visit the filming locations, thus drawing in even more tourists.”

Local residents can find work as extras, generating excitement as they become part of the action, he said. Cult-like followings can develop, making the movie franchise an even more lucrative production, he said.

“People want to come visit the town where filming took place,” Redden said. “Publicity, especially the great and positive type, will keep the energy flowing in the city where successful films are made.”

The Salisbury and Rowan County tourism development authorities each collect a 3 percent hotel room tax.

Local grocery stores sold food to the contract caterer for “Sleepy Hollow,” Spalding said, and local residents were hired as extras. Others worked on the crew.

Jeremy Vess, a music instructor for the Salisbury School of Music, worked as a stand-in for Tom Mison, the British actor who played Ichabod Crane.

“My experience was very positive with the cast and crew and during filming, there was an admiration for Salisbury that came from most everyone on set,” Vess posted on the chamber’s Facebook page. “I believe that should the show return to our town for future filming, with the right planning and communication, our town could profit greatly.”

Vess said the show already has brought Salisbury name recognition and offers a great marketing opportunity. Restaurants could offer “Sleepy Hollow” food and drink specials, and retailers could sell merchandise related to the show, Vess said.

The Headless Horseman even could roam the streets during downtown Night Out events. Salisbury has more to gain than anything lost, Vess said.

The chamber board discussed the benefits of “Sleepy Hollow” at a recent meeting.

“As a business advocate, the chamber addressed our appreciation of this wonderful opportunity for our community,” the chamber posted on Facebook.

Cheryl Goins, who owns Pottery 101, said she recently sold $400 worth of pottery for use on the set of “Homeland,” another TV show filmed in the Charlotte region. The woman who bought the pieces said she worked as a set designer for “Sleepy Hollow,” Goins said.

Pottery 101, like many other downtown businesses and landmarks, is visible in the promotional trailer for the show, she said.

“We see that as a benefit,” Goins said.

Although filming did not disrupt business for Pottery 101, which closed before the streets shut down, Goins said it was different for downtown restaurants.

“I could see that they lost money,” she said. “The sidewalks were open, but there were issues.”

Many people who don’t live downtown don’t know where else to park if the 100 blocks are closed, said Goins, who lives above her shop. Signs directing customers to parking would help next time, she said.

“It was cool to have them here,” said Greg Culp, who owns Hap’s Grill. “But I hate to see it run off business.”

Culp said his sales were off all week during the filming, even though nighttime street closures didn’t affect Hap’s, which is only open for lunch. The Saturday that the city kept the streets closed past noon was “horrific,” Culp said.

“We did not do well that day,” he said.

Twentieth Century Fox spent $8 million filming the pilot in the Charlotte region, with a substantial amount of filming done in Salisbury.

More than a dozen film and TV projects in Salisbury, Spencer, China Grove, Kannapolis and Landis have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in Rowan County since 2000, according to local officials.

Other projects include “Homeland,” which shot scenes at City Park, and “Leatherheads,” a movie with a press tour that brought 80 media outlets and the chairman of Universal Pictures to Salisbury.

Justin Bieber recently completed a photo shoot and video at the N.C. Transportation Museum in Spencer, where the movie “The Ultimate Life” also shot scenes.

Salisbury offers a ready-made set for Hollywood, Spalding said. Local leaders want businesses to focus at the bigger picture and consider the economic impact of the film industry, she said.

Film projects can be a good experience for the entire community with better communication and coordination between community partners, Spalding said.

Many business owners said they weren’t aware of the extent of street closures until “Sleepy Hollow” filming began. None applied to the N.C. Film Office for help negotiating compensation from the studio because they said they didn’t know about the office until it was too late.

A city official said the studio offered compensation to one restaurant after filming was complete but did not receive the required documentation.

“Good communication will really help going forward on any future project,” Spalding said.

North Carolina’s film industry had a record-breaking year in 2012, with direct, in-state spending in excess of $376 million. Film projects created more than 4,100 well-paying crew positions, officials said.

All told, productions created nearly 20,000 job opportunities, including extras. The 2012 numbers surpassed 2011’s record-breaking $220 million in spending and 3,300 crew positions.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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