Return to tiny 'Cicely' Overexposure: Some locals loved it when "Northern Exposure" took over Roslyn, Wash. Others are still irked.

October 06, 1997|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ROSLYN, Wash. -- Making a left turn onto the main drag for the first time brings you face to face with the familiar: the battered blue pickup truck, the corner bar, the storefront radio station, the general store.

Maybe you've never set foot in Roslyn, Wash., but chances are you've been there. For six TV seasons, the tiny village in the Cascades moonlighted as Cicely, the town "on the cusp of the new Alaskan Riviera" and home to the characters of CBS' "Northern Exposure."

Roslynites who profited from its run are hoping for a little deja vu as the show returns to TV today in reruns. But it's the last thing wanted by some of their neighbors, who are still suffering from over-"Exposure."

The A&E Network is relying on the same bait that hooked TV viewers in the summer of 1990: the quirky story of a young know-it-all doctor from Manhattan who pays off his medical scholarship with a four-year stint in the sticks of Alaska. The network will show the 110 episodes in order twice each weekday, at noon and 6 p.m.

In Roslyn (pop. 926), where the outdoor shots were filmed, "Northern Exposure's" boosters say the show was, and is, a cash cow. During its zenith, "Northern Exposure" meant a monthly sales-tax boost of $3,000 to the city. Just this summer, 400 of the faithful attended "Moose Fest," a weekend to hang out with members of the cast and crew and take a bus tour of places where the show was shot.

However, locals on the other side of the coin remember "Northern Exposure" and its fans as unwelcome guests, closing down the four-block downtown for hours at a time, hogging all the tables at Village Pizza and filling the several dozen prime parking spaces on Pennsylvania Avenue.

"In Roslyn, they didn't want the post office blocked, and you can't blame them. That's their big activity of the day," says M. J. "Squeek" Giaudrone, a reporter for 19 years at the weekly NKC Tribune who made "Northern Exposure" part of her beat.

The Tribune ran an essay contest in 1993 about the impact "Northern Exposure" had on Roslyn.

Wrote the winner, David Marsh: "Many -- I should say most -- of the people who dislike the presence of [the production], and the crowd of tourists attracted by it, are anti-change."

At the height of their unhappiness, more than 130 opponents petitioned city hall, warning the mayor and council to "get things in line and start considering the rights of people."

Tourists who lined the streets during the filming were derided as "coasties," "206ers" (the area code for Seattle) and "looky-Lous." Cast and crew were called "movie groovies."

Locals grumbled about the busloads of tourists who handed over their cameras to have their pictures taken in front of Ruth-Anne's general store, KBHR radio and Dr. Joel Fleischman's pickup truck.

"Most of the people who object come from someplace else, like a big city, and move here for the quiet, small-town atmosphere," says Marianne Ojurovich, Roslyn native and owner of Cicely's Gift Shop. "And then some people just like to complain."

On one thing the two sides agree: The sentiments in town are about 50-50.

Although it's been two years since the show went off the air, a tourist posing for a photo in front of the famous camel mural ("Roslyn's Cafe: An Oasis") still can be the target of a catcall from a passing truck.

But the folks who loved the show remain loyal.

"I miss the action and the cash flow the show brought us," says Town Clerk Maria Fischer. "It really hurts us, because we won't get that kind of money back."

To be sure, fears that Roslyn and neighboring Cle Elum would change have come true.

For Cle Elum, there are the early-warning signs of urban sprawl. First, a new fish hatchery. Then, the dreaded second traffic light.

"It took nine years to get the [light] we asked for, then, boom, another one and a turn lane," says Giaudrone. "That's a lot for people to adjust to."

For Roslyn, it's newcomers who have traded off a 90-minute commute to Seattle in exchange for living in a community wreathed in the scent of pine, where the census is done door-to-door by Fischer and the town treasurer.

But looming even larger is something that could change the area more than any TV series: a proposed 7,600-acre complex of condominiums, motels and golfing and equestrian facilities on the Cle Elum River.

"Controversy? We have something to replace it -- a master planned resort, homes for those with beaucoup bucks," says Giaudrone. "The average gas station attendant won't be able to afford a place there, I bet."

Still, some things haven't changed. Take the Brick, the century-old bar run by Holling Vincoeur in Cicely and Larry and Wanda Najar in Roslyn.

With the exception of an 8-by-10 autographed glossy of the cast nailed up near the door, the Brick is devoid of "Northern Exposure" geegaws, a conscious decision by the Najars.

"This is just the Brick," says Wanda Najar, a 60-year-old retired schoolteacher. "Other businesses in town promote 'Northern Exposure.' We promote the Brick. It's a beer kinda place."

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