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Posted: July 12, 2013 10:00 a.m.

‘Vampire Diaries’ returns for filming

Vampires are returning to Covington this week to kick off the fifth-season of filming for “The Vampire Diaries,” which has turned into one of television’s most popular dramas and has turned Covington into a booming tourism destination.

The CW Network show will be filming scenes Friday on the square for its season premiere, including a big “end-of-summer” barbecue event with several picnic tables, a soundstage and lots of extras, according to local officials.

Filming will last from noon Friday until 2 a.m. Saturday. There will be intermittent traffic delays on the square from 2-7 p.m. Friday, and the square will be closed from 7 p.m.- 2 a.m.

Covington has played the part of Mystic Falls, Va., the main fictional town in “The Vampire Diaries,” for the past five years, and numerous other sites around Newton County have been used over the years.

“We love working in Covington - the people are super- friendly and it's a beautiful town. The town and its residents have become like family to us. Going back to Covington to film this year is like going back to your family, we know so many wonderful people there,” said Pascal Verschooris, a co-executive producer who is based in Atlanta.

Verschooris said he was excited about the fifth season, which will feature some new twists.

“Season five is exciting because we're setting up for a whole new situation for Elena. She's off to college this year and has a new set of adventures planned,” he said by email Thursday.

The continuation of the show is also big news for some local companies that benefit from the tourism it brings.

Jessica Lowery has been running Mystic Falls Tours since the show began and has seen her business grow into a booming enterprise.

“We’re so busy and so lucky to have ‘The Vampire Diaries’ here. It’s an amazing thing for us,” Lowery said.

This year is big for the franchise, as the spinoff series “The Originals” is also kicking off and will film mainly in Conyers, with some filming in Covington as well. Lowery already has created a tour based on “The Originals” as well.

“It’s so crazy how much we’ve grown since season one. We’ve gone from having two people a tour to having 30 people a tour. It’s still nuts to me. People come from so many different places; we’ve come to expect some people from Germany at least two to three times a week. Who would’ve thought that would happen?” Lowery said Thursday.

Her tours for Saturday were already sold out. Lowery said the tours stay pretty packed all year long, but stay busier during the filming season, which lasts from July through May.

“We’re ready to watch some filming and see some nice-looking people there and walking around our local businesses and buying stuff and eating here,” Lowery said.

One of the businesses that sees a boost is Square Perk. While summer is generally a slower period for the coffee shop, owner Andrea Smith said the filming definitely increases business. She plans to stay open late Friday, probably until around midnight.

“It’s very much a part of their fan base, which is worldwide, for people to take a vacation and come to Covington, especially being here for the shooting,” Smith said. “The couple of times we’ve mentioned on our Facebook page that ‘The Vampire Diaries’ will be here shooting, it’s gone viral … we’re very excited they’re back.”

Based on numbers from the Covington-Newton County Visitor’s Center, annual tourism has continued to increase since the show first came to town, approximately doubling to 25,000 tourists in 2012. With 12,000 tourists having arrived through the end of June this year, the county is seeing an 18 percent increase compared with last year’s pace, according to Ron Carter, assistant director of tourism for the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

Many guests are “repeat visitors, having been to Covington in the last two years, and now returning to revisit their favorite locations for ‘Vampire Diaries,’” Carter said in an email. “As with the past visits, guests are continuing to stay in Covington three, four and, in many cases, five consecutive nights in our hotels. They are also eating in our restaurants and shopping in our stores while enjoying their time here.”

In addition to the extra business, Smith said she loves seeing the big celebrations, including parades and festivals, that have become popular parts of the show, particularly during season premieres and finales.

“I think sometimes the TV production challenges us to have a better Covington. If the TV people can do it, why can’t we do it?” Smith said.

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