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‘The Walking Dead’ Gives Life to Small Businesses in Georgia

Feb. 13, 2015
Small Business
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As models for small business success go, the zombie apocalypse probably isn’t at the top of many people’s lists. But, every now and then, the rise of brain-eating undead fiends has an upside.

“It has boosted our economy so much,” said Rebecca Rice, assistant manager of the Woodbury Shoppe in Senoia, Georgia.

She’s referring to “The Walking Dead,” AMC’s breakout zombie show, which returned from mid-season hiatus on Feb. 8. Senoia, a town of roughly 3,800 people about an hour south of Atlanta, was the stand-in for the fictional town of Woodbury on the show.

The Woodbury Shoppe, which sells “Walking Dead”-themed merchandise, was launched in April 2013 by a couple of local movie-industry pros and Robert Kirkman, the writer of the graphic-novel series upon which the show is based.

A new opportunity

It’s just one of the small local businesses that have found new opportunities thanks to fans flocking to the area, hoping for a glimpse of the locations where the show’s characters fought with zombies, and each other, for survival.

“We realize what this show did for our city,” Rice said. “All of the small businesses here have benefited from ‘The Walking Dead’ being here. It really put our town on the map. When people come here to visit, they not only walk around, but they shop and eat in most of the restaurants.”

Up the road in Atlanta, Patti Davis, a travel and event coordinator, was one of those “Walking Dead” fans. So was her friend, Carrie Sagel Burns, who had been serving as a liaison for crews working in Atlanta’s burgeoning TV and film industry.

“When Carrie revealed that she took visiting friends to the filming locations, I suggested that we should start a company,” Davis said. “And the rest, as they say, is history.”

The result, in 2012, was Atlanta Movie Tours. And the first two tours the company offered were versions of its “Big Zombie Tour,” one taking in the gritty Atlanta landscapes the characters confront and the other starting in the more rural environs of Senoia.

Since then, the company has grown with Atlanta’s movie scene. Offerings now include general tours of filming locations throughout the city and more specific ones devoted to movies such as “Gone With the Wind” and the “Hunger Games” series.

As TV and movie buffs themselves, Davis — who cites “Archer” and “The Newsroom” as other favorite shows — and her colleagues say the line between running a small business and enjoying the company of like-minded folks sometimes blurs.

“I’m always so tickled when guests tell us how proud they are of us,” she said. “Many guests have become friends as we’ve bonded — whether it’s over the undead, Margaret Mitchell, ‘The Hunger Games’ or just all the cool productions being filmed all over Atlanta.”

But it’s not just small businesses that have specifically targeted “The Walking Dead,” which drew 15.6 million viewers for its midseason return, that have been able to take advantage of the show’s success.

Back in Senoia, David and Suzanne Pengelly have owned and run Senoia Coffee and Cafe, at 1 Main Street, since 2000.

Their most popular coffee, which they also sell through their own roasting company: Zombie Dark.

The cafe got a makeover during filming of the show, becoming “Woodbury Coffeehouse” for the shoot, and “Walking Dead” star Andrew Lincoln, who plays Sheriff Rick Grimes, is one member of the cast and crew known to stop in for a cup when he’s in town.

Hitching wagons to a trend

Senoia is just one of the places in and around Atlanta that has taken advantage of a trend that’s turned the city into what’s come to be called Hollywood South. The state of Georgia offers a tax credit for big TV and movie productions that come to film and, in 2014, more than 150 projects had a $5.1 billion economic impact in the state.

Still, it can feel like a big leap of faith for a small business owner to start up a company with aims of taking advantage of something nontraditional like movie tourism.

Davis says it’s a leap worth taking.

“When you take a chance and it’s the right chance, things just fall into place,” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it. Be fearless.”

Which is actually pretty good advice for a zombie apocalypse, too.

Learn more about small business by visiting NerdWallet’s Small Business Education Center

Photo by Frank Ockenfels/AMC.