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How Scranton learned to love 'The Office'

Plus, appreciating Pa.'s offbeat dialects.

April 8, 2022
Inside this edition: Shroom stats, hometown phenom, what's going on, Kyiv dinner, elder archives, funny talk, life lessons, and taking the plunge.

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Which Pa. borough has been called the Mushroom Capital of the World? 

(We'll have a real stumper in this space each week. You'll find the answer at the bottom, but don't miss all the good stuff in between.) 
"The Office" walking tour. (Courtesy of Lackawanna County Visitors Bureau)

In 2020, Americans streamed 57 billion minutes — roughly 108,000 years’ worth — of The Office, making the Pennsylvania-set comedy the most streamed TV show in the country by far.

It remained a juggernaut in 2021, a salve for pandemic anxieties, as The Washington Post put it, and, perhaps, a surrogate for the amusing and awkward workplace interactions that had been stripped from so many of our clerical lives.

As new generations discover the aughts-era sitcom, the show is more popular (and more memed) than ever before and Scranton — initially a somewhat resentful prop as the show’s drab, quotidian backdrop — is very much leaning in.

There are self-guided walking tours, selfie stops, romantic dinners with “Stanley,” superfan festivals, and much more to come.

We talked to Rose Randazzo-Pizzuto of the economic development group Scranton Tomorrow about a massive mural that’s in the works, the push to get NBC to deliver a themed museum, and how a related cottage industry is bigger than ever a decade after the show ended.

Our conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

PA Local: A 30-foot-high, 120-foot-wide mural featuring realistic portraits of 17 characters (sorry, Gabe ... again) from The Office. Please tell me more. 

Randazzo-Pizzuto: Philadelphia-based muralist Kala Hagopian is the chosen artist, and the reason I selected her is because not only do you need a muralist for this project, you need a portrait artist because the people will be painted 10 to 20 feet high. They’re massive.

We’ve had a little bit of a slow start with our Indiegogo (fundraising) campaign for the project, but that’s normal. We think that if the word gets out, fans of the show will support it. 

A rendering of the mural. (Courtesy of Scranton Tomorrow)

PA Local: What’s involved behind the scenes?

Randazzo-Pizzuto: We got all 17 actors signed off on the use of their images. NBC and Peacock (NBC’s streaming service) have been instrumental. They’ve provided clearances for marketing materials and fundraising perks. (Asked if NBC is contributing any direct funding, Rose said no. The project is homegrown and will be grassroots funded.)

We’re hoping that once the mural is complete NBC will make a decision to follow with an Office museum in Scranton. We’re asking them to do that. They just did the first one in Chicago and it just so happens that behind the wall on Lackawanna Avenue where the mural will be sits about 3,000 square feet of space that’s empty right now. Hopefully we can convince them at some point that we need to have it at least temporarily here. 

PA Local: There were early pockets of ambivalence about how the series portrayed the city. It seems more roundly embraced now. Why is that? 

Randazzo-Pizzuto: It’s an iconic show. It’s a quality show. It's a smart show. We’ve become very proud of it. I was traveling recently and when people asked me where I was from, when I said Scranton no one said, ‘Oh, the birthplace of Joe Biden!’ They said ‘That’s where The Office was set!’

PA Local: Scranton recently shed its financially distressed status. Tourism industry spending and employment in Lackawanna County hit 10-year highs in 2019. Does this show play any role in the recovery plan? 

Randazzo-Pizzuto: Absolutely. It’s a regional asset. It's a northeastern Pennsylvania asset. It’s a show about who we are in this valley.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

» Friday, April 8: West Philly's reimagined Shofuso Cherry Blossom Festival is in bloom this weekend. General admission is free.

» Saturday, April 9: Help the Friends of the Delaware Canal clean it up in an annual spring ritual at Delaware Canal State Park.

» Saturday, April 9: Get growing at the 22nd annual Pennsylvania Herb & Garden Festival in York. Tickets are $10. Kids under 12 are free.

» Sunday, April 10: Mark National Poetry Month with a visit to the State Museum of Pennsylvania for Let Me Speak: Youth Poetry Slam!

» Sunday, April 10: Pay a visit to Pittsburgh's newest museum, the Tattoo Art Museum, as profiled by Pittsburgh City Paper.

» Sunday, April 10: See Mary Poppins backed by a live orchestra at Erie's Warner Theater. Tickets start at $25. Students with ID pay $12.

Tell us about a Pennsylvania business or service that deserves a turn in the spotlight and we'll share your suggestion here.

This week, Nancy W. shouts out the Black Forest Deli and Restaurant in Bethlehem for its "delicious lunches" and extensive takeout menu

Lehigh Valley Live profiled the Ukrainian American-owned establishment and the return of its famous Kyiv dinner in March, writing in a rather poignant piece: "The courses flowed and strangers talked to each other ... but the talk inevitably turned to the current worries of the war." 

Vivid skies, via Michael R. Send us your Pennsylvania pics by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania

» One thing worth knowing: LGBTQ Pittsburghers over the age of 50 are archiving their stories for younger generations at Pitt, via PublicSource.

» One thing worth watching: Ken Burns' four-hour documentary on Philadelphia's own Benjamin Franklin. It comes highly recommended.

» One thing worth debating: Is Pennsylvania the 'most linguistically fascinating state in the country'? Slate made the case in 2014. 

» One thing worth reading: Pittsburgh writer Virginia Montanez offers a moving account of the masked, pandemic-era encounter with a dentist that helped her let go of shame around her disability

» One place worth saving: A flooded Bethlehem quarry renowned among scuba divers faced an uncertain future amid a warehouse boom. But an effort to save it is moving forward, per the Morning Call.

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

» Spotlight PA wins national award for hidden spending coverage

» Spotlight PA wants your help flagging school health hazards

» Pa.'s broken 'compassionate release' law, by the numbers

» You're invited to a free 'compassionate release' law panel

» A guide to the primary race few voters are paying attention to

» Spotlight PA leads historic coalition to host political debates

» Election 2022: Tell Spotlight PA what coverage matters to you
Kennett Square in Chester County has been called the Mushroom Capital of the World™️ thanks to a booming fungus industry.

In 2016, Main Line Today wrote that 65 percent of the fresh mushrooms eaten in the U.S. were grown there, adding about $500 million to the state's economy annually and employing about 10,000 people region-wide.

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? What do you want to see more of? Or, tell us your secret food recipes!
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