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Scranton Welcomes Fans of ‘The Office’

The Mall at Steamtown, the Penn Paper building and sights along Mifflin Avenue in Scranton, Pa., might not seem like traditional tourist draws. Nor, for that matter, does Scranton itself rank high on the list of must-sees before you die.

But that was before the mockumentary television series, "The Office," became an Emmy award winning hit. And so on the hunch that no detail is too minute and no site too mundane for diehard fans of the set-in-Scranton show, a group of locals has launched weekly Office Fan Tour tours. The tours visit spots mentioned in the show and tie in local history and "Office" trivia.

More than 60 fans showed up last Saturday to pose for photos in front of the Scranton Welcomes You sign featured in the show's opening montage. They dined on beet salad at Coopers Seafood House and dropped by Poor Richard's Pub for a cold Yuengling. Both spots are among the hangouts for employees of the fictional office supply company, Dunder Mifflin.

Saturday's record turnout was, no doubt, due to the presence of Melora Hardin, the actress who plays Jan Levinson on the show. She was in town promoting her new movie, "You," and hung out at the mall with the tour group. (Bobby Ray Shafer, who plays Bob Vance, is scheduled to accompany Saturday's tour, and organizers hint that other cast members may follow.) The four-hour tours are led by students from the University of Scranton.

The city hosted an "Office" convention in 2007, which drew cast members and writers for the show and 15,000 attendees over three days. But until the tours began in June, Scranton hadn't attempted to capitalize on its notoriety with any regularity, even though city officials were aware that fans were trickling into town. In fact, so many visitors were jumping out of their cars to pose by the Scranton Welcomes You sign on the busy Central Scranton Expressway, the sign was re-located to the Mall at Steamtown.

"Scranton is like a character in the show," says Tim Holmes, marketing director at the Scranton Times and one of the tour's organizers. "We get people every day walking around town bumping into things looking for some connection."

Hardin, whose visit to Scranton last weekend was her second, hasn't done much actual sightseeing there, though she noted, "It's a pretty place - much prettier than we make it look on the show."

Indeed, some locals, including Scranton's tourism director, were shocked upon hearing the city was to be used as "The Office'''s setting.

"We are what we are and we don't try to hide it," says Tracy Barone, head of the Lackawanna County Convention & Visitors Bureau. "It was a boomtown and it fell on hard times, but it sure as heck has gone through a lot of changes in the last 20 years. ('The Office') has had a great impact on tourism in the region. If people didn't know where Scranton was before, they know it now."

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