The Mall at Steamtown on Lackawanna Avenue in downtown Scranton is referenced in many episodes of ’The Office.’File photo/ the times leader
SCRANTON, Pa. — On a recent Friday evening, Roy Minelli, co-owner of Scranton staple Poor Richard’s Pub, happily chats with two downright giddy New York City lawyers, answering every question about where Roy trashed a mirror or Toby played the claw vending machine.
It’s enough energy to make you truly believe, “There ain’t no party like a Scranton party, cause a Scranton party don’t stop.”
The quote, and Roy and Toby as well as Poor Richard’s Pub itself, come from “The Office,” NBC’s hit mockumentary about cubicle life in Scranton. “Ain’t No Party … ” is emblazoned on Poor Richard’s shirts, pint glasses and bottle cozies.
The top-40 show with about 9 million viewers is filmed on a Hollywood soundstage, but the attention to detail in re-creating the world outside the office space has turned Scranton into yet another character of the show. Many near-fanatical fans have chosen to become tourists, to get up close and personal with this city of about 76,000.
The show “really put Scranton on the map,” says Mari Potis of the Greater Scranton Chamber of Commerce. “People have made it a point of coming here and going on a scavenger hunt of places” featured on the show.
It is a relatively easy task to hunt down the real locations mentioned on the show and compare and contrast how local businesses hold up to their fictional representations. Some — Chili’s, Hooters and Benihana — don’t exist in Scranton. Others, such as Alfredo’s, Farley’s or radio station Rock 107 are the real deal. But how about local spots most prominently featured on the show, such as Poor Richard’s, Pennsylvania Paper & Supply, or the Mall at Steamtown?
As it happens, all it required to determine the truth behind “The Office” was a reality tour on a lazy Scranton afternoon.
On the show, which won last year’s Emmy for best comedy, Poor Richard’s has a certain charm — if you count a back-alley bar with an entrance nearly blocked by a trash bin as charming. The pub, a favorite among the office dwellers, is referenced repeatedly on the show.
Most notably, the crew gathered for drinks there in last season’s “Cocktails” episode in which the joint looked a little cramped but cozy; a brightly lighted hangout consisting of a couple of coin-operated games, a long table for big groups and a bar.
Co-owner Minelli, who says the pub is a secondary business to the bowling alley, had extensive contact with the show’s producers and propmasters. Still, “The Office” got Poor Richard’s wrong.
“We were on the line with them (producers) probably every day for six weeks, and we sent them hundreds of photographs, and an accurate layout of this space,” Minelli says. “And they, in our opinion, duplicated it very poorly.”
But the jovial owner understands the show is a Hollywood invention, and the pub couldn’t be completely re-created.
The show depicted an establishment with a giant green sign outside. In reality, Poor Richard’s doesn’t have an exterior entrance. Tourists might be bowled over to learn the only way to get in is through South Side Bowling Lanes.
The crashing of pins is happening just a few feet outside Poor Richard’s entrance, but you don’t hear that. It’s a classic pub setting, with the rumble of patrons talking, blare of classic rock and the clanking of glasses. The harsh bowling-alley light hardly penetrates the soft amber bar haze.
Unlike its depiction on the show, the pub is spacious and has the history of a place that’s been open for 26 years. Old paintings of seafaring vessels and other decorations hang on the walls, and there’s no sign of the logo mirror Roy broke. And that claw game human-resources representative Toby spent hours on? Sorry, not here, but there is one in the bowling alley.
Each week, one of the first images TV audiences see when they tune in to “The Office” is a historic brick tower owned by the 87-year-old Pennsylvania Paper & Supply Co. Along with “Welcome to Scranton” and “Mulberry Street” signs, the structure appears in the show’s opening credits.
The footage for the credits was nabbed in 2004. That’s when actor John Krasinski visited the company to research his role as Jim Halpert, a salesman at the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin, a fictional paper and office-supply distributor. Scranton was chosen as the setting of the new show partially because of its believable distance for a regional office of a New York City-based business.
The tower looks exactly the same as it does on TV, though company President Douglas Fink says there are plans to add a Dunder Mifflin logo to one of the tower’s black circular insets. “Our tower is obviously on the show every week so we’ve become a cultural landmark of sorts,” Fink says proudly.
The rest of the real paper company, however, couldn’t be much different than the television version.
In the show, the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin is a closed-off world of cubicles and fluorescent lighting. If not for the goofy antics of characters such as Jim, or the lovable cluelessness of boss Michael Scott, the environs of the TV office would be cold and boring.
But the entrance to the massive Pennsylvania Paper & Supply Co. complex is friendly. From the outside, a sign painted in big, happy letters across a window welcomes visitors. Tourists enter an area that’s more display showroom than phone sales.
While visitors are welcome, this is definitely a business, and people are bustling. There are desks in the main office, and offices extend down a long hallway, but Pennsylvania Paper is no cubicle hell.
“Their concept of a paper company is a little different than what we do here,” Fink says. “(The TV version) is more just a sales office.”
Instead of a paper supply company like the fictional Dunder Mifflin, the real company is a “personal service paper company” that provides customers with things such as packaging, toilet paper and paper plates. The company has a sample table with new products available for customers to try out.
Fink adds that the attention from the show has led to a greater awareness of his business.
“Almost everybody that I talk to, especially out of the area, says, ‘You’re the paper company in Scranton!’ It’s amazing how many people actually refer to it.”
And in case visitors hope to run into someone like oddball character Dwight Schrute here, they should know most salespeople are out on the road.
Last season, to show his appreciation, Michael Scott took the female Dunder Mifflin workers to the mall for a day of shopping at Victoria’s Secret, eating frozen yogurt and lunching at the food court.
In the episode, audiences are treated to shots of a sprawling shopping center with a Borders bookstore, and characters mention a Gap Kids and an American Girl store. But while the real Mall at Steamtown has more than 100 retail stores, these three aren’t among them.
The real mall’s Victoria’s Secret is like any other, with a pink glow that shines out from behind the windowed storefront.
The mall’s wide-open food court with abundant natural lighting and a restaurant perimeter of various themed cuisines also could be lifted from any shopping center in America with one exception: It contains the now-famous large red-with-white lettering “Welcome to Scranton” sign shown in the opening credits. Originally located along the North Expressway, this sign was taken down and replaced with a multi-colored version.
Mall management persuaded Scranton city officials to dust off the old sign for display — with the addition of mall mascot Seymour the Frog — in the food court as a photo opportunity for tourists.
The sign is just one way The Mall at Steamtown has helped Scranton embrace its new place in pop culture. Throughout the shopping center, there are numerous “Office” references, from giant Dwight bobblehead transparencies to Dunder Mifflin banners. The mall also has hosted a visit from Rainn Wilson, the actor who portrays fan favorite Dwight, and made him an honorary mall security guard.
Further, the mall’s involvement with the show may not have ended. A propmaster from “The Office” made a stop at the shopping center in July to collect items to include in the current season.
“There’s more to come,” says Art Levandoski, the mall’s director of marketing, who maintains contact with the makers of the show.
Despite the similarities between the real city and the one home to Dunder Mifflin, Scranton shouldn’t be confused for its somewhat-distorted counterpart. As Steve Carell’s Michael Scott might say, life moves a little slower in Scranton, while the version shot in California is like Scranton on speed. But as a whole, the city seems to be eating up every moment of attention that comes from being the locale for a popular show — and hoping that this Scranton party doesn’t stop anytime soon.