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Post by Jennifer Kornegay from Alabama NewsCenter
Last July, HGTV announced that Wetumpka, Alabama, had beaten out 2,600 other U.S. small towns to be chosen for the starring role in “Home Town Takeover.” The new show followed popular makeover duo Erin and Ben Napier of the show “Home Town” as they worked with the city, other HGTV personalities and local contractors to revamp six homes and six commercial spaces, emphasizing the transformative power even a handful of renovation and preservation projects can have in a small town.
As soon as the news broke, anticipation began building in Wetumpka. City leaders and residents were imagining what their hometown would look like, feel like and be like after the show premiered May 2 and the world got a good look at Wetumpka and the changes ushered in by the Napiers. The projections of increased tourism – meaning higher tax revenues and more sales for local businesses – and future development riding on the initial fame’s coattails were huge.
Now, 12 days after the sixth and final episode aired, it looks like Wetumpka’s collective dreams were not too big. The show’s impact has exceeded expectations in every way, said Shellie Whitfield, executive director of the Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s been an incredible response. We knew it would be massive, and yet it’s all gone beyond what we thought it would be,” she said. “The chamber’s email box and our actual front door is just being overwhelmed with messages and people. So many people are calling and emailing, saying they are planning a trip. The stores and restaurants are flourishing; they can’t keep inventory in.”
Wetumpka Mayor Jerry Willis echoed Whitfield. “We are experiencing a tremendous growth in visitors to our city, and we love it. It is such a privilege to share our great community with these new friends for the first time,” he said. “The city of Wetumpka has always helped and promoted each other, but what HGTV and Ben and Erin did for this community was contagious. Our city leadership has planned for years, and we are chipping away at that plan and developing new projects constantly.”
Coaches Corner, a popular Wetumpka eatery, received a face-lift on the show, and is routinely seeing diners waiting in a line that’s out the door and winding into the parking lot.
Johnny Oates, owner of coffee shop River Perk, has seen the effects firsthand; his business fronts Company Street, which got a curb appeal upgrade as one of the show’s 12 renovation projects.
“There have been a lot of new people coming in from all over. The farthest so far was from Hawaii,” he said. “It’s doubled my business, at least; it might be close to tripling it.”
Oates said the crowds are not restricted to his street, noting the entire town has been packed. “But I know they’re coming to see Company Street especially. I love the way it looks now. With the electric poles gone, it looks much nicer,” he said. “And at night, when the new string lights are on, it’s just beautiful.”
Troy Stubbs, a Wetumpka business owner and Elmore County commissioner, expressed his appreciation for another of the show’s projects, the new farmers market built on a bluff overlooking the Coosa River.
“The Farmers Market is a huge asset for the city. It has the ability to serve not only as a farmers market, but I’m confident it can be a place for many other community gatherings,” he said.
He also approved of the way his city was presented on the show, although he admitted it was a bit weird to watch himself in the farmers market episode. “The show was an excellent portrayal of the beauty of Wetumpka and the great people that live here,” he said. “Seeing myself on TV was really cool and a bit awkward all at the same time. It was especially funny because I had a beard in some scenes and no beard in others.”
All six episodes were filled with heartwarming project reveals that brought squeals, gasps and tears from those directly benefiting from a renovation. Jenny Stubbs, Troy’s wife, was impressed with the way the show captured Wetumpka’s character.
“I think the production company did a tremendous job of translating the true, cohesive vibe that exists in our community,” she said. “It’s something that’s real, but intangible, and how they did it, I don’t know. But as I watched, it all resonated in a way that’s as genuine as it is in reality.”
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Jenny Stubbs recently stepped down as executive director of Main Street Wetumpka, which worked alongside Willis and his team and the chamber to create Wetumpka’s “Home Town Takeover” submission video and then worked with the Napiers and show producers during filming. She’s still volunteering with the organization she led, and as an eighth-generation Wetumpkian and author of “My Wetumpka: A Picture Book Love Story,” she’s committed to staying involved.
“’Home Town Takeover’ gave us such a gift,” she said. “It gave us the gift of true transformation, with expertise to boot! Moving forward, we’re a complete picture.”
In the finale, Erin Napier delivered a closing line with obvious emotion: “I’m so proud of this town and what is it, and what I think it’s gonna be.”
Oates shared a similar sentiment when he spoke of what’s next for Wetumpka. “I think the crowds will keep coming for a while, but we have to now keep the momentum going ourselves,” he said. “But we were already headed that way, and I believe we will keep this going. I really do.”
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