Annette Root arrived in Forks, Wash., anxious to explore the rainy, single-stoplight town that author Stephenie Meyer used as the setting to her now-epically famous book series, Twilight.
Like so many other fans who make the pilgrimage, Root wanted to experience firsthand the place that inspired Meyer -- the place where a human teenager named Bella Swan gets swept up in a love triangle between a vampire named Edward Cullen and a Native-American werewolf named Jacob Black. Root hoped the real Forks would echo the books' magic.
But after driving several hours up the Pacific Coast from her home in Vancouver, Root was disappointed with what she found in Forks. Aside from the Chamber of Commerce, she says, very few local businesses had much to offer for so-called Twi-hards like her.
"It felt like going to Disneyland and being told that all my favorite rides were closed and Mickey Mouse had quit," Root remembers. "I thought, there's got to be more people like me who want more from Forks."
At her husband's suggestion, Root packed up the family, left her job as a social worker for the state and relocated to Forks. She took out a $7,000 loan, and in November 2008, she opened her first store, Dazzled by Twilight, smack dab in the middle of Forks Ave.
"My first shop had nothing in it, except people who loved having a place to go where someone understood them," Root says.
Nearly two years later, Root now has a total of three stores, one which she has decorated to look like scenes from the books. She sells everything from shot glasses to vampire stakes (for members of Team Jacob, no doubt) and gives local vendors and artists business by selling their Twilight-related crafts. Root has provided about 48 Forks locals with jobs at her stores and even opened a restaurant in town three months ago.
"I've seen a lot of people start understanding that Twilight is a reason why people come here," Root says. "Tourism will keep this town alive."
Root is now a full-fledged Twilight entrepreneur, and she's not the only one. The new tourist culture has gradually inspired a fresh batch of small businesses in and around Forks. From the Jacob Black's House lodging facility to a retailer called Native to Twilight, Forks natives are increasingly capitalizing on the opportunity. It's also given established local business owners a previously unseen surge in revenue, even during the winter months. Between 2008 and 2009, the number of people visiting the Forks Visitor Center nearly quadrupled, according to the Forks Chamber of Commerce, and the 2010 numbers are already surpassing last year's. As the third Twilight film, "Eclipse," premieres today, the booming business in Forks shows no signs of slowing down, and many local owners couldn't be more grateful.
"The majority of merchants here in Forks really appreciate this," says Mike Gurling, manager of the Forks Visitor Center. "Forks, prior to this, was sort of like a Sleepy Hollow."
As vans full of fans began trickling into the Olympic Peninsula around 2007, Gurling and Chamber of Commerce director Marcia Bingham knew they had to start offering guests an interactive experience in Forks. Gurling and Bingham read the books, picked out all the major landmarks Meyer mentions and mapped out the places in town that most closely fit Meyer's descriptions. They dubbed one lucky bed and breakfast the Cullen House, making it a must-see destination for tourists.
"Having the Cullen House designation does help business. People call just for that," says Bill Brager who has owned the Miller Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast with his wife Susan for 12 years.
"In the shoulder seasons, there's a few more rooms booked, and for us, that's a big thing," Brager says. "We only have eight rooms."
According to Brager, Twilight fans "took the sting" out of the economic downturn, when the number of fishermen who used to visit and sustain the Inn through the winter started to dwindle.
"With the economy in the slumps, the fishing trade went down quite a bit. It ends up being something people do when they have discretionary income," he says. "We started keeping track of why people were visiting, whether it was for Twilight or other reasons, and all of a sudden, there were lots of Ts on our calendar."
The Cullen House is now a stop on the Dazzled by Twilight tours that Root's staffers lead around Forks, and it's not the only business benefitting from the rush of sightseers. Over on Jacob Black turf, near the native Quileute tribe's reservation, is the Three Rivers Resort. It's now known for being located on the treaty line, which separates werewolf and vampire territory in Twilight.
Owner Donna Ingram says business has tripled since the Twi-hards came to town. She's doubled her staff and added seating to the restaurant where hungry tourists can gobble down Swan sandwiches and warm up with Cullen clam chowder from the Twilight menu.
She's thankful for the business, but mostly appreciative of the type of clientele Twilight brings to town. "It brought people out here that wouldn't normally have come," Ingram says, "They're families. We don't have to worry about them busting up the cabins and getting drunk."
This September, Forks Chamber of Commerce hopes to bring even more of these families into town to celebrate the fourth annual Stephenie Meyer Day, which is held each year on none other than Bella's birthday. Last year, Gurling says, about 2,000 people turned out, and lodging in Forks was booked, including at The Cullen House.
"Stephanie Meyer gave the community a gift, and we've all benefited from it," Brager says. "If ever people come by who never heard of Twilight, I tell them, 'Go to the first book, the first chapter, the first sentence of the second paragraph. That's the first mention of Forks. From that point on, it changed the history of our town.'"