School's out for summer. It's simmering in Hotlanta. And 35 miles south, the once rural town of Senoia, Georgia is filling up with television crews, actors, and tourists, all buzzing about the filming of the new season of The Walking Dead. Fans are familiar with Senoia's Main St., otherwise known as "Woodbury", where much of Season Three was shot (not to be confused with the actual town of Woodbury, Georgia, located 25 miles farther south). The Governor is no longer running things down here, but everywhere you turn it's like revisiting a memorable scene. The Walking Dead has pumped new life (and a few undead) into many small towns in Georgia, and Senoia is no exception. Among some fresh new businesses is The Woodbury Shoppe, which is a certified retailer of everythingThe Walking Dead – including many of our licensed apparel and gear! The shop has become an instant hit, from The Walking Dead cast and crew to fans who have visited, and has been receiving lots of buzz on social media. Gold Label big boss Matt Reed decided to sit down with local resident and Woodbury Shoppe manager Carrie Cottrill to pick her brains (we prefer ours roasted) about The Woodbury Shoppe, Senoia, dreaming in zombie-vision, and her hotline to Norman Reedus.
So who's idea was it to start The Woodbury Shoppe?
Scott Tigchelaar is the person who came up with the idea. Scott owns the studio [Raleigh Studios] where AMC shoots. He lives in the town of Senoia, and has done a lot of development here; commercial and residential. He mentioned that people would come into town to see the sites, and they were disappointed they didn't have a place to buy souvenirs and look at things. And he said, let's put a small shop together. So, I thought he was just kinda joking. So I literally quit my job and three weeks later he gave me a stack of information. I'd never run a store, we just started ordering stuff. We knew that it would be successful because a large number of people would come into town, but we had no idea how successful it was going to become. So it sorta started to meet the needs in town, to now it's more of an experience. We have everything Walking Dead, we have memorabilia from the show, we have a museum in the basement – we've obviously moved. Now it's become more of a destination, [with word spreading[ through social media. People come from all over the world to come to the shop and the town and to see the sites.
So it's been kinda a trial by fire; figuring everything out by the seat of your pants?
Oh you have no idea! We really had no experience. He basically said just get busy and do it. And three weeks later we opened the doors. There were a lot of mistakes, a lot of hard lessons, but 98% has been so positive, and we've met some of the best people in the whole world through this experience. And every day it evolves.
Do you work with the show creators?
We don't work with them at all; they're not associated with the store in any way. But we do have them visit a great deal. Greg Nicotero comes in and gives us feedback. Robert Kirkman comes in and gives us feedback. We've had visits from all of the stars and all of the producers. They are in no way affiliated, but we have a great relationship with them.
So The Walking Dead has helped turn Senoia into a filming location?
Absolutely. Well, Senoia has always been a location for shooting films, Fried Green Tomatoes was filmed here, the studio has been here maybe over forty years, but The Walking Dead definitely took it to a whole different level. We've had visitors come through to see where different movies were filmed, but The Walking Dead has brought in to Senoia a lot of money, a lot of press, a lot of people, and a lot of excitement. But Senoia was always a great place to be.
How does the town feel about The Walking Dead phenomenon?
I would say 98% of the people are very positive about it. There are always going to be people who don't like change. Ten years ago you wouldn't see 10 cars in Senoia. There was one restaurant, a furniture store that's been here for years… so downtown development was completely dead. So I would say financially there's not much to complain about; they stay overnight, they eat… most people are thrilled to have the visitors here and the shooting here.
So with The Walking Dead it's left more of a permanent destination for people to come, even when the show is not filming?
Oh, that's absolutely right. And the actual town is a movie set. This whole town was used in Season Three, and even Season Four. And people come ask, what can I see, and all they need to do is start out on foot and every part of the town is visible in the show. So even if you don't take some of the major tours, on a bus, you recognize every building, even our building (prior to us being here) was in the show.
Main Street, which was "Woodbury", will probably never be used again, because at the end of Season Three they burned it down. But the filming that's going on right now, today, about 15 miles from us… social media gives all these clues. So there are tons of people who come, they know where the crews are at, they know where filming is at, and they'll sit for hours and hours, trying to meet stars, trying to catch a glimpse of them.
Wow. So do you get lots of locals who go to the shop as well?
Absolutely. We're only 20 minutes outside of Atlanta, plus there are several military bases around here. I would say about 30% of our business is locals, and probably 70% are people passing through or making it their destination to stop here. We've had people come on their honeymoon!
Do you know who has travelled the farthest to come to your store?
We've had people from Germany – four German women flew to Atlanta and drove straight here. They had their whole itinerary planned out, they mapped out the places they wanted to see. We've had people from South Africa. Several people who have come, the show isn't even on where they live; they actually have to download the show in order to follow it. The show is a huge hit in Germany, it's a huge hit in Japan. When you have 16.8 million viewers….
That's a wide bandwidth! What are a few of your personal favorite things about running the Woodbury Shoppe?
The show unites people across ages, across ethnicities, across socio-economics. It's just something that brings everyone together. It gets people thinking "what would I do?". And people love to share stories, and love to hear our stories. Like all great cinema and television, it's escapism at its finest, it lets people enter different worlds, and think "how would I react?".
And the work you're doing with the shop is an extension of that as well.
Absolutely. And I tell people all the time, it's not about what's in the shop, I mean, we do have a lot of merchandise, but it's the experience of being here. Customer service is our top priority. We let people take pictures, play with things, it's a fun time. We make a big deal about birthdays, anniversaries, we try to make being here such a special time for people that they tell everybody about it and they want to come back.
We do have exclusive merchandise that we make for ourselves, but a lot of this merchandise you can get online, people can just click and purchase it. But they want to come here and buy it. They want to come here, take pictures, have an experience, post it on social media and tell their stories. We haven't had to do any advertising because social media is so strong.
That's fantastic. Is The Woodbury Shoppe the only dedicated The Walking Dead store in Senoia?
There are other shops that carry The Walking Dead merchandise, but I think we're the only official The Walking Dead store.
Do you carry any other brands?
We do. We carry Skybound – Robert Kirkland's stuff from The Walking Dead comic books. We carry The Walking Dead licensed merchandise. We've branded some of our own things for the store exclusively. I carry a lot of zombie types of merchandise, a lot of artists making things. I just have to be careful it doesn't infringe on copyright. But I have a lady who crochets a zombie hat with an eyeball falling out, and people love it! And we have some artists make ceramic ears, like Norman's cut ears. We have a zombie foot doll toy.
What are your favorite Gold Label designs or products?
I'll tell you one story. We ordered your "Keep Calm and Eat Pudding" t-shirts to wear for a special event, and we ordered it in red so the staff would stand out. And I didn't anticipate having them wear something that we didn't carry in the store, and at the end of the day I had a list a mile long of people who ordered those t-shirts. Every day 'til that t-shirt got to us, I had people come to the store: "Is the Pudding shirt in? Is the Pudding shirt in?". [Lol] Probably the second most popular item are your mugs – people love the mugs! The magnets and buttons are really popular – especially for people who are traveling from far away; you know, they're easy to pack when you're traveling by airplane.
How the trucker hat became to be so popular is Norman Reedus came into the store and put on one of the Gold Label trucker hats and then Tweeted a picture of himself wearing it and social media blew up and within two hours we sold out.
Yeah we were stoked! So do you now dream in zombie-vision?
You know what, I don't. And I was really concerned about that, because I'm actually subject to bad dreams. I have so much of it during the day, that when I go home it just leaves me and I don't dream about zombies or think about zombies. But the show is not about the zombies really, it's about human interactions, so funny enough, and thank goodness, I don't dream about zombies! They're just part of the background.
What is the weirdest question a person has asked you in the shop?
Oh my G-d. I've had several calls where people have asked, 'You know, I'm traveling, and I'll be there on such-and-such a date. Can you call Norman Reedus and ask him to be in the store when we visit.'
Hahahaaa – you have a hot line to Norman!
Yes, I have him on speed dial. I'll call Norman and make sure he's here!
Even though we do not recommend calling The Woodbury Shoppe and asking them to hook you up with any stars of The Walking Dead, you never know who you might run into, especially when the show is filming around Senoia. If you're ever in Georgia, or planning to make Senoia a destination vacation, make sure to stop by the Woodbury Shoppe. Check out all the Gold Label officially licensed The Walking Dead gear (like Norman's favorite GL trucker hat and Daryl Dixon Bandit mug), as well as other awesome zombie goodies. Like their Facebook page for news and updates and check out their web site for directions! Hope to see you there soon.