Southern Vt. takes its star turn

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From the snow-capped peak of Haystack Mountain to the busy Main Street of Manchester Center, viewers tuning in to ABC's "The Bachelor Winter Games" will recognize a number of southern Vermont venues when the episodes begin to air on Wednesday.

The production team's visit this past December brought in people new to the region, provided a boost to some businesses and created chances for locals to get involved in showbiz.

"It was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to be welcomed with such open arms into the communities of Wilmington, West Dover and Manchester," said Nicole Woods, executive producer of the show. The Winter Games is a new addition to the reality franchise.

"While our main headquarters was the Hermitage Club, we were able to work closely with everyone in the surrounding communities, including filming at local places like Riley Rink, the West Dover Inn, North Star Pizza, Fine Arts Vermont and more. Our cast and crew fell in love with the charm of this wonderful community and we cannot wait to share it with millions of viewers. We hope to visit again in the future."

Meridith Dennes, senior director of marketing, advertising and public relations at the Hermitage, said the series will feature favorite cast members from past seasons of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." The private ski resort at Haystack Mountain and other Hermitage-owned properties hosted "a handful of winter-themed events."

Eric Durocher, membership director and events coordinator at the Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce, said he had "an overwhelmingly positive response" from many of the business owners in Wilmington and Dover. Ratu's Liquor & Market in Wilmington sold alcohol to the crew. A number of inns reported being packed and restaurants saw an uptick, too.

"Everyone I've spoken with has had nothing but good things to say, not only about the economic impact of bringing money to the valley," Durocher said. "They said they were awesome people, extremely polite."

The show, he said, will "draw attention to our area" and all the activities it has to offer.

Employees at The Village Roost recognized one of the main cast members when they visited the Wilmington restaurant. That "left us a bit starstruck," said Britny Jones, manager.

"We did hear, 'This place is so cute, there is nothing like this in L.A.,' which we assumed was from people working on the show,'" she said.

"Over the span of nearly 30 days, our production of over 200 crew members was able to give back to the local community in a number of ways — from dining in local restaurants to shopping in homegrown stores," Woods said. "We had the opportunity to utilize a range of local companies and businesses to pull together our massive production."

She said more than 100 student volunteers helped the production team and about 40 locals — from electricians to production assistants — were employed for the different shoots.

Phil Gilpin Jr., executive director of the Manchester-based Independent Television and Film Festival, is still unsure what brought the production to Vermont. As a member of the newly formed Vermont Production Council, he helped find a location for an opening parade sequence.

During a two-day shoot, Main Street in Manchester was shut down. "That was massive," Gilpin said.

The production crew, he said, "must have dropped $1 million easily on travel, rentals and housing — everything from food to lodging."

"It's like having a 200-person wedding for three weeks in a row," he said. "People talk about the wedding industry as a way of economic development. Nothing is bigger than a major TV or film shoot."

Gilpin said many inns and restaurants were filled with crew members. One segment was filmed at the West Dover Inn, which his parents own.

Production teams coming to Vermont is not just about money for Gilpin. He sees them bringing the "exact demographic" that regional economic development groups are targeting: "Young, professional, hardworking, creative, making good money."

"The Bachelor" shoot, Gilpin said, "opened a lot of doors and opportunities." His council has received "dozens" of queries from "small indies to big productions."

The episodes, in which about 12 bachelors and 12 bachelorettes from the United States and around the world will participate in a variety of winter games, will air on Feb. 7, 15, 20 and 22 from 8 to 10 p.m.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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