Reality TV crews bring economic boost to Petersburg, but many locals wonder if it’s worth it

A woman stands by a door
Hotel Manager Holly Childs pictured in front of the Tides Inn in Petersburg. (Shelby Herbert/KFSK)

The Tides Inn is one of just two hotels in Petersburg, and it has hosted almost every visiting film crew to pass through the town since the COVID-19 pandemic. The inn, more than 50 years old, is built into a steep hill just off the main drag and has a clear view of the ocean. 

When you walk in, it’s tidy and warm inside. But with the departure of the cast and crew of “Outlast” and “Port Protection,” the lobby is pretty quiet. 

Hotel Manager Holly Childs fondly remembers the crews that came and went this winter.

“You know, I’ve had regular hotel guests do more outrageous things than they do!” said Childs.

More than anything else, Childs appreciates the crews for the lift they’ve given to the local economy. Especially in the off season, when the fishing boats have turned in and the tourists have trickled out. In the fall, when Childs would only expect to book the occasional traveling government employee or grade school sports team, Tides Inn was almost completely sold out. 

“It means a lot to me, like it does everybody else around here,” said Childs. “To get that little extra boost — to me, that’s very much a positive. Can’t imagine it being a bad thing, to have business come to town, especially that time of the year. It’s been really good (for) us.”

For now, many of the inn’s rooms sit empty. Childs hopes more film crews will return this year. 

In 2023, three reality TV shows and one feature-length documentary were shot in Petersburg. The sudden influx of crew members was a small windfall for many local retailers, charter companies, hotels and restaurants.

Business owners around town say the TV and film crews gave them a surprisingly profitable winter season. The U.S. Forest Service, which approved the necessary permits to film on federal land, estimates the crews flooded Petersburg with at least a million dollars. 

But it’s a controversial issue in the community. The Forest Service allowed a film crew to take over a popular hunting spot — during peak moose hunting season. 

Local subsistence hunter Lee Gilpin said “Outlast” set up camp in a spot that gets a lot of traffic from youth hunters, due to its easy accessibility and safe terrain. 

“If you’re growing up in Petersburg, you have one season of deer hunting that you can’t get to during high school,” Gilpin said. “And that’s a quarter of your easy access hunting area — gone. A quarter of the time you can hunt has been put away so somebody could make a few dollars.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way. When the Forest Service opened a comment period for Outlast’s special use permit, they were inundated with letters of concern about the project from people who use that land to hunt. 

This isn’t the first time Petersburg residents have tangled with reality TV show crews who popped up in their backyards. In recent years, some locals opposed the Discovery series “Alaskan Bush People,” which they say casts the region in a negative light.

But opinions vary — even among Petersburg hunters. Some have personally chartered and guided for film crews that came to town this year. 

Clay Newcomb is a content creator for “MeatEater,” a television and web series about hunting, fishing, and foraging across the United States. Newcomb and his crew came to Petersburg to shoot an episode about trapping wolves. He wasn’t in town for long — most of his crew’s visit was spent deep in the wilderness. But he hired and featured a local hunting guide, and he stopped though town to resupply.

“I loved Petersburg,” said Newcomb. “It was a beautiful little coastal town. We had breakfast there, went to the grocery store, went to the hardware store, ate lunch down at the harbor. We were kind of buzzing around, you know.”

Newcomb may have only been in Petersburg for a short time, but local businesses appreciate the extra patronage — and the exposure.

Along with all the letters of concern, several people representing different businesses in town wrote in favor of letting more film crews set up shop.

Scott Newman, a Petersburg hunting guide and pilot who also sits on the Borough Assembly, was one of them. He thinks the film crews are a good thing for Petersburg. Newman turned his own profit from film-crew business this year. He piloted seaplane flights for “Outlast” in the fall, as well as for a NatGeo documentary filmed in late summer.

But, he said, a lot of other businesses in town benefitted too. With falling fish prices and the sale of one of its two major seafood processing plants, he said the future is uncertain for the town’s economy.

“Petersburg is the town that was built by fish,” said Newman. “And we all see the winds of change on the horizon. And I think Petersburg is going to have to decide how they’re going to navigate for the maximum benefit to the community.”

Now, he said, it’s up to the town to decide its own future — whether that means trying to weather the storm of low dock prices, or opening themselves up to a new type of customer. Either way, once all the media shot in Petersburg gets produced later this year, he’s sure all the exposure will beckon new crews to town.

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