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A family of four, each rugged up against the cold in puffer jackets and knitted hats, are barely able to contain their glee as they bundle out of their car at a nondescript intersection in rural Ontario, Canada.
The two children, a boy and a girl, make a beeline for a brick store with its blinds tightly closed and a “private property” sign hanging from a window. They pose for a picture, dutifully taken by their mother before she jumps in to join them, before rushing over the road to take another in front of an old yarn store.
Another couple is heading back to their car after a round of selfies in front of the same facade. The woman looks perplexed. The man is gesticulating as he explains: “So, Johnny Rose owned this video store empire, and he lost all their money, so the family had to move here, to Schitt’s Creek…”
Welcome to Goodwood, Ontario, population 600, otherwise known as the town that stood in for one of Canada’s most famous television shows.
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While Schitt’s Creek – starring Eugene and Dan Levy, Catherine O’Hara and Annie Murphy as a well-heeled family who, when faced with bankruptcy, move to a backwater town they’d bought as a joke – experienced limited popularity throughout its first three seasons, all that changed when it appeared on Netflix in 2017.
And once tourists realised that the tiny hamlet of Goodwood provided the facades of some of the fictional town’s most recognisable buildings – Rose Apothecary, Cafe Tropical, the town hall and Bob’s Garage (Rosebud Motel can be found in another town about 80km east) – it became a cultural pilgrimage site.
On a brisk Sunday afternoon in October, groups of all ages arrive in the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it smattering of buildings along Ontario Highway 47, about 60 kilometres from downtown Toronto.
The selfie-seeking tourists – known affectionately by locals as “Schittheads” – pull up at the town’s main intersection, where three of the buildings sit, despite the fact that no reminders of its former life remain.
“Cafe Tropical” is a private residence with its blinds drawn and a private property sign up. “Rose Apothecary”, which enjoyed a pre-Schitt’s life as a century-old general store and then, more recently, as family-owned yarn store Romni Wools, is now permanently closed. “Bob’s Garage” has a fresh lick of blue paint, and is still in operation – but as the workshop of Joe Toby, who builds equipment for disabled children. Thankfully, just around the corner, the town hall is still the town hall.
A wildly popular bakery, Annina’s Bakeshop & Catering, which sits on the fourth corner of the intersection, has been the primary recipient of the economic boost the show brought the town, courtesy of catering for the cast and crew and an ensuing shout-out from Murphy on a late-night talk show. At the height of Goodwood’s Schitt’s-inspired fame, the bakery had to hire security guards to manage crowds.
The Sunday we visit, the line is 16 people long and snakes around the outside of the building.
Beyond Goodwood’s main drag, however, you’ll find a new subdivision housing multi-million dollar mansions; a far cry from the backwater, down-and-out “dump” (to quote Johnny Rose) depicted in the show.
“We’re actually a lovely, affluent, beautiful community,” Dave Barton, mayor of Goodwood’s township of Uxbridge, tells Stuff.
“The joke that Goodwood is a ‘s…….’ is laughable because it’s such a lovely place.”
When asked about the locals’ reaction to their town’s newfound fame, Barton chooses his words carefully.
While he says the majority of residents enjoyed the show and its humour, he admits that many simply “don’t want to be known as being the home of Schitt’s Creek.”
“There’s so much to us other than that,” he says.
For instance, Uxbridge was where Lucy Maud Montgomery, author of Anne of Green Gables, wrote half of her novels, Barton says.
It’s also known as the “Trail Capital of Canada”, popular with hikers, cyclists, equestrians and skiers.
Lycra-clad cyclists are a familiar sight in the line at Annina’s, or smiling knowingly at the selfie-takers as they whizz by.
From an economic standpoint, Barton says Annina’s has done well to capitalise on the show’s success. In recent articles in the local media, the owner has credited the Schitt’s phenomenon for keeping him in business throughout the pandemic.
But not all local businesses have been so lucky.
Goodwood stalwart Marilyn Leonard closed Romni Wools (“Rose Apothecary”), about 18 months ago, after 10 years in business, due to the exposure the show brought. She still lives in the house next-door, though – she just doesn’t use the front door.
Leonard told Stuff that she closed the shop “because of Schitt’s Creek and the people and the pandemic”.
“It still is [crazy] out there,” she says. “Everyone was coming past, looking through the window at me.”
While Leonard remains good-natured about the ordeal, saying she has two other stores in Toronto and her Goodwood outpost was “not giving me a great living”, due to the fact that it was only open Friday and Saturday, she was “sad” at having to travel into town more to tend to her other stores.
Leonard started Romni Wools almost five decades ago, complete with an unexpected Kiwi connection: the business was named after the New Zealand Romney sheep, as most of its wool was once imported from Napier’s Kane Carding wool store.
Unfortunately, that fact was lost on most of the Schitt’s fans, as the increased footfall didn’t translate into increased sales.
“Maybe if we sold some of the stuff that the apothecary sold [in the show] it might have, but when you run a knitting store, it’s not really like that,” Leonard says.
When the pandemic hit, Leonard, like many others in the town, became worried for her safety as tourists continued to pour in. A handwritten message taped in the former “Cafe Tropical”, reads: “Please stay off property during pandemic, we are immunocompromised.”
It prompted a warning from Dan Levy in March 2020 for people to stay away from the town until the crisis was over.
However, in the months since, Leonard has put all of the window gawking to good use, by transforming her old store into a show home for her son’s furniture, which he builds as a hobby and sells online.
It’s this small town charm that Barton hopes visitors to Goodwood will come for, rather than some pictures in front of a few nondescript buildings.
“I hope that if someone decides to take a selfie in front of the three corners of Schitt’s Creek, that they also go for a hike on our trails, go to Annina’s for lunch and go to one of our other cafes for dinner,” the mayor says.
“We don’t need to be the selfie capital of Ontario. Don’t come for a selfie, come for the day.”