To the editor:
Here’s a new slogan for the City of Covington: “The town between a rock and a hard place.”
It came to me over conversations with locals and local officials as I questioned the wisdom of essentially shutting down our charming downtown square for filming in this, the first official week of Christmas shopping. Someone called “they” really did it. I think it was nuts.
Early in the week, I headed to the square to visit a store or two, only to find most of the parking was blocked off or occupied by rental trucks and film crews from the Vampire-spinoff, “The Originals,” so I kept on going. Somebody lost some business that day. Carefully located Christmas decorations on the leafy town center were covered or moved around. With the warm temperatures and no decorations, it felt decidedly out of season with the calendar.
I raised the issue with a few merchants who expressed their displeasure at the situation, but was told by one elected official that the merchants approved the shutdown. Someone with the city told me the chamber’s tourism division and Main Street made the decision, while I heard otherwise at the chamber. Fingers were pointing in more than one direction. All I knew was that nobody asked me – or any other shopper or average citizen - whether it was smart to let the film crews have their way with us in the all important Christmas shopping period. Downtown was no destination this week, and out-of-town guests were dismayed.
In a discussion with the always-sincere Chamber President Ralph Staffins, I heard the oft-repeated laudatory statistics about the importance of film projects to our status as “Hollywood of the South.” Tourists pour in from around the world to follow the steps of stars and that brings in major dollars for shops, restaurants and hotels. Our status as a film-ready community played a major role in locating Three Ring Studios here, he told me. Recent numbers reveal that Covington gets more referrals for film projects than even Atlanta and Savannah. And, Staffins told me, all the merchants and restaurateurs on the Square were paid an “inconvenience” fee toward the impact of the filming. Hey, nobody offered the same to me.
We’re not complaining about being the darling of the TV and movie kingdom. It feels good and pays off well, you know. But there ought to be limits and restrictions on when we turn ourselves over to these guys. Taking over our square for most of this week at such a festive time of year shouldn’t be permitted. And, dig this, another project will be here next week to take down our Christmas decorations and hog our parking.
But as I suggested, we are the town between a rock and a hard place.