Scranton, an old Pennsylvania mining city whose mention is often accompanied by a gentle roll of the eyes, is now laughing back, as people from around the world visit to tour locations featured on the hit TV show, "The Office," now in its fourth (strike-delayed) season.
"The Office" is a tongue-in-cheek comedy about the Scranton branch of a fictional paper company, Dunder-Mifflin. Though not filmed there, the show incorporates many references to real places in this city of 73,000.
There's Alfredo's Pizza Café, from which Michael Scott, the boss (Steve Carell) orders delivery; Poor Richard's Pub, the office hang-out; Terry's Diner, whose menus are strewn about the set; and Farley's, the pub where the loser of the warehouse basketball game had to buy dinner.
"I am a fan," confessed Scranton Mayor Christopher Doherty, noting that the show had boosted the city's fortunes. "We took something that's been very quirky and made it a benefit."
Scranton has over the past six years invested $400 million on revitalization, adding new downtown cafes and shops, he said.
"I was able to change the perception of the city," said Doherty.
Jobs are still dwindling, the population is aging, and Scranton's still not making any "best places to live" lists — in fact, the state's third largest city was teased as a contender in one newspaper's 2001 "armpit of America" hunt. But it is receiving its 15 minutes of fame.
Calling Loretta Lynn!
One of the biggest attractions is the coal-mine tour. Visitors descend into the anthracite coal mines, where they find out how difficult life was for Scranton miners — and how many died.
Though "Office" cast members took this tour, it's never mentioned on air; maybe it's too heavy a subject be included in such a cheeky show.
"Brian Baumgartner (who plays Kevin) made a great point, because he realized how much sacrifice went in, how many people sacrificed their lives, and understanding that was a tough job," said Doherty.
Not that "The Office" has a monopoly on things to do here. The N.E. Pennsylvania Jewish Film Festival just held its inaugural season here at Lackawanna College, with Eli Wallach as the guest of honor, saluted with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Indeed, the city gets its own book: Jews of Scranton, by Arnine Cumsky Weiss and Darlene Miller-Lanning, makes history come alive on its pages. (There are some 5,000 Jewish residents out of a general population of just more than 100,000.)
But the TV show does have its reach; the series highlights Scranton's best features: food and drink.
"Every time Farley's gets mentioned on 'The Office,' I get a whole bunch of e-mails, and I get a lot of calls from people that want to come in," said Bill Young, owner of Farley's bar. "Typically, I could get a call — 'Hi, we're from Alabama, and we're coming to Scranton next week, and we want to know how to find your restaurant.' "
Cast members have also dropped by. Carell announced that if someone made a Michael Scott burger, he would visit. Young took him up on it, creating one — though so far, Carell hasn't shown up.
"It affected us, definitely, in a positive way," agreed Mark Minelli, owner of Poor Richard's Pub, who now sells "Office" T-shirts at the bar.
Alfredo's Pizza Café likewise started selling T-shirts, after its pizza box was featured on the show.
And the city even boasts a little cafe that sells real beignets, New Orleans-style, with the profits going to charity.
Scranton hosted an "Office" convention three months ago. Many of the actors were on hand to mingle with fans, and to get acquainted with the real version of their show's hometown; Al Roker hosted "The Today Show" from the University of Scranton.
"Scranton is like another character in the show," said convention organizer Tim Holmes, who said he had a 2 a.m. cigar with actors Baumgartner, B.J. Novak and Craig Robinson.
Info to Go
Where to stay? The Radisson — where the cast stayed, and which used to be the old railroad station — is at 700 Lackawanna Ave.; www.radisson.com.
As for where to eat …
· Alfredo's Pizza Café, 1040 Washington Ave.; www.alfredoscafe.com
· Terry's Diner, 4118 Birney Ave., Moosic; www.terrysdiner.com
· Coney Island Lunch (where the cast enjoyed Texas wieners), 100 Cedar Ave.; www.texas-wiener.com
· Cafe Beignet, 801 N. Washington Ave.; www.milksavingstarvingchildren.com
Anybody up for a drink?
· Poor Richard's Pub, inside South Side Bowl, 125 Beech St.; www. poorrichardspub.net
· Traxx (at the Radisson)
· Farley's, 300 Adams Ave.; www.farleysrestaurant.com