6 Normal Towns That Became Weirdo Tourist Hotspots
Not every population center is blessed with prodigious oil reserves, spectacular scenery, or the world's fifth-largest cheese wheel. There may be enough reason to live there (gotta live somewhere), but not enough to visit. So sometimes overlooked places have to think outside the box to keep their coffers filled. And hey, taking a flying leap off the screaming cliffs of insanity is still technically "outside the box."
Scranton Was A Dump Until The Office
The Office was not shot in a sleepy northeastern Pennsylvania town, but plain old Southern California. Still, the financial impact of luring reverent Prison Mike fans has proven real tempting for Scranton. Sure, you can buy a Dunder Mifflin coffee mug from a boring online repository, but there's just something special about getting it in the city where the company never really existed, right? At least, that's what the city leaders are betting on. From Office-themed booze cruises on Lake Wallenpaupack to themed restaurants that name all their sandwiches after characters from the show, local businesses have taken full advantage of the national exposure.
If you tire of the dry humor of The Office, you can pivot to classic horror and celebrate The Exorcist at Farley's Eatery and Pub on Spruce Street. No, it wasn't filmed in Scranton either, but Farley's is where Jason Miller, the Scranton native who played Father Karras, dropped dead of a heart attack. His bust and ashes are displayed on the street outside, because The Exorcist wasn't a creepy enough legacy for him.
Houtong Was Rescued By Stray Cats
Houtong was once a buzzing Taiwanese coal town, but the development of neighboring cities inadvertently drained the life out of it in the '90s. Thousands of residents bailed, leaving a scant population who had 99 problems, of which feral cats were about 97.
The burgeoning community of strays alarmed a local photographer, so she blogged about it to band together with fellow cat-lovers. As the place gained more traction, the villagers had a change of heart about their furry cohabitants. Fancy cat-themed structures like pedestrian bridges, cafes, and even a cat information and education center were built as the feline-inclined visited in droves.
As great as it was for the Houtong economy, the kitty boom has brought its own problems. Tourists will visit the village specifically to dump their own unwanted cats, and the population is growing hefty on the abundance of available treats. In response, the local government has upped its efforts to keep the cats healthy, vaccinated, and spayed. All in all, it's a small price to pay for a real-life Aristocats.
The Village That Painted Itself Blue For The Smurfs Movie
What originally began as a publicity stunt soon became a way of life for the people of a tiny Spanish village named Juzcar. It all started in 2011, when Sony, producer of the live-action Smurfs movie, approached Juzcar, whose abundance of mushrooms and other Smurfy characteristics made it attractively Smurfish. They proposed painting the traditionally white houses of Juzcar blue and labeling it the official Smurf Village. Having approximately three kernels of corn to their name, Juzcar agreed. And somewhere, a monkey's paw curled one finger.
Juzcar went from your average mild-mannered Spanish town to a fully decked-out Smurfopolis, with blue walls, Smurfs-themed murals, and giant statues of the characters. However, Juzcar found itself in a bind when their tourist population ballooned from 300 people a year to over 80,000, leading to the creation of eight new businesses. The original deal with Sony only required the town to play the role until filming and publicity for the movie wrapped up, at which point Sony would repaint things the original white and everyone could forget this ever happened. But they couldn't exactly afford to undo the transformation, what with the region's 35% unemployment rate. When the time rolled around for Sony to turn Juzcar back to its original Andalusian self, the town overwhelmingly voted "Smurf no.''
Juzcar stayed so blue for so long that they were eventually hit with a copyright claim by the original owners of the Smurfs. What the Smurfs giveth, the Smurfs taketh away. Juzcar was forced to rebrand as the "Blue Village" and stop selling Smurfs-themed merchandise, but the Smurfs-based tourism continues flooding in. It proves once more that there is nothing too stupid to lure tourists.
Los Algodones And Nogales Are The Places To Go For Cheap Teeth And Pills
There are a number of towns on the U.S./Mexico border known for drug activity. Where else can you go to get such vile street candy as Viagra and Lipitor, all for so cheap that it would make a Canadian blush?
Places like Los Algodones and Nogales subject to the cruel tyranny of pharmacists and dentists instead of any traditional cartel. With more than 350 dentists operating within the city limits, Los Algodones has gained the nickname "Molar City," and become a favored destination for those looking to engage in a little "dental tourism." It may be hard to pick which physician to trust with your budget fillings and crowns, but the men standing outside yelling like carnival barkers will be happy to steer you in the right direction.
Meanwhile, over in Nogales, prescription drugs cost 50-70% less than their counterparts in the U.S., making it popular among Arizona's elderly, retired, and erectionally challenged. You can get your Symbicort and Lexapro at rock-bottom prices, then ride out that sweet medicinal high with a dancing cartoon doctor!
"I trust this abomination with my health." -- tons of people, apparently
A Georgia Town With No Significant German Population Relies On Fake German Festivals
Oktoberfest is one of the most iconic events in Germany, rivaled only by things that are better left unmentioned in this lighthearted article. You can find lederhosen-clad drinking enthusiasts roaming the streets every September in any place with a sizable German community. Helen, Georgia is not one of them, yet it still hosts Georgia's largest Oktoberfest.
How did a small Southern town in the Blue Ridge Mountains come to base its entire economy on a German festival? It goes back to 1968, when the town was dying. When the sawmill closed, it looked like the whole place would go under. Three businessmen wanted to turn Helen's fortune around, so they sought the advice of a local artist named John Kollock, who lived in nearby Clarksville. He said Helen kind of, sort of, maybe almost reminded him of the alpine towns he saw when he was in the army, stationed in Bavaria. A week later, he took some photos and touched them up to look Bavarian, and the town seized on the idea. Now it looks like this:
The plan worked. Helen's Oktoberfest is extremely popular, and mountain homes in the area now run in the millions of dollars. It's all gables and towers now -- town squares filled with polka-dancing frauleins and dudes rocking shorts with suspenders, even though none of them are German. It would be an offensive display of cultural appropriation, but, you know, Germany has a reason to stay quiet about such matters.
Grand Rapids Became A Semi-Permanent Flash Mob
In 2008, Grand Rapids, Michigan didn't have a lot going for it. It was hit hard by the financial crisis, home to tons of struggling auto suppliers, and not famous for much aside from making furniture. How do you get people interested in a small city in the Midwest whose biggest asset is being kind of halfway to Chicago? They can't tell you. It would be impossible to determine exactly which insane stunt revived the town. We can tell you who was responsible: Rob Bliss, a young man on a holy crusade against mild boredom.
The great Grand Rapids stunt drive began with a massive pillow fight, complete with Spaghetti Western music and hundreds of people ready to throw down:
The town turned into a Revolutionary-War-themed water balloon fight with 40,000 balloons and 1,000 participants. And because this is the Midwest, the fight only ended when the national anthem started playing.
They turned the steepest street in the city into a massive waterslide...
There were multiple zombie walks downtown, drawing thousands of zombies (the biggest one had over 8,000). Once, 10,000 pieces of chalk were handed out downtown, just for people to do art on the sidewalk. It all culminated in the Grand Rapids Viral Lip Dub, a nine-minute music video for "American Pie" filmed in one long shot all around the city. Currently it has 5 million views, and Roger Ebert called it "the greatest music video of all time" before he died, so it was arguably their biggest success.
Rob Bliss is one funny suit and a mental breakdown away from Wonka-ing the whole town.
E. Reid Ross has a book called BIZARRE WORLD that's on store shelves as we speak, or you could just order it now from Amazon or Barnes and Noble and leave a scathing/glowing review. A. N. Ulriksen is actually three raccoons in a trench coat who function as a single freelance writer. Steven Assarian just hopes you love the place you're at.
For more, check out The 4 Ways We Travel In The Modern World (Are About To Suck):
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