A small town in Washington hopes vampires will revive its tourism industry

Amy Wray, CNNUpdated 10th August 2020
The sleepy coast town of Forks has been awakened by the Twilight phenonmenon, which as brought tourists from around the world. The north entrance to town is shown on Thursday, June 17, 2010.  (Photo by Tony Overman/Tacoma News Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
(CNN) — Nestled in the northwest tip of Washington state is an idyllic town hoping a group of angsty teenage vampires will provide some much-needed relief to its pandemic-stricken community.
Forks, Washington, is home to roughly 3,600 people, many of whose livelihoods over the past 15 years have been boosted by a tourism industry powered by "Twilight," the young adult book series and multibillion dollar film saga. The book and film series were set in Forks, although the movies were primarily shot in Oregon and British Columbia.
"Twilight" was published in 2005 and centers around the love story of high schooler Bella Swan and her vampire soulmate Edward Cullen. Twelve years after author Stephenie Meyer published the last novel in the original series and nearly eight years after the final film hit theaters, it is apropos that businesses in Forks are still cashing in on the "Twilight" craze.
Forks, Washington, is located on the northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula
Forks, Washington, is located on the northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula
For "Twilight" fans, the release of the fifth book "Midnight Sun" on August 4 could not have come soon enough. The latest book in Meyer's series is told from the perspective of vampire heartthrob Edward Cullen. In the first week of its release, the novel has leaped up to No. 1 among Amazon's bestselling books.
At the height of the series' success in 2010, more than 72,000 people visited Forks, according to data from the town's visitor center. That number has since been cut by roughly 50%.
Leppell's Flowers & Gifts owner and Forks native Charlene Leppell hopes the novel's burgeoning popularity helps drum up more business.
"I'm optimistic that the more people read it, the more it will spark their interest again," Leppell told CNN Travel.
The iconic Forks, Washington, welcome sign greets visitors as they enter the town
The iconic Forks, Washington, welcome sign greets visitors as they enter the town
Method Agency LLC
With its country store facade and faded "Twilight Central" sign, Leppell's Flowers & Gifts still sells fan favorites like "I was bitten in Forks" mugs and Carlisle Cullen lab coats. Leppell, however, is still concerned that the hype around "Midnight Sun" will not be sustainable.
"At one point, the whole bottom part of my store was 'Twilight.' Now half of my store is 'Twilight' merchandise. I imagine in the next five years, there's probably going to be just one little corner," Leppell said.

How vampire tourism sunk its teeth into Forks

"Twilight" and its cult-like following of mostly teenage girls are credited for putting Forks on the map.
To build its tourism industry, Forks has intentionally invested in activities for fans such as dedicating September 13 -- the day of "Twilight" protagonist Bella Swan's birthday -- as Stephenie Meyer Day to thank the author for her contributions to the community.
Local restaurants have incorporated "Twilight" themed items on their menu, such as the "Bella Burger" from Sully's Drive-in, which is served with a side of fries and plastic fangs.
Fans enthusiastically flock to the Pacific Northwest for the annual Forever 'Twilight' in Forks Festival, which Lissy Andros, executive director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce, told CNN is akin to an "annual pilgrimage" or a "badge of honor" for dedicated fans.
The festival boasts an Instagram page with nearly 20,000 followers and a coveted collection of "Twilight" memorabilia, including props and costumes from the movies (shot primarily in Oregon and British Columbia).
Forks Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lissy Andros takes part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Forever Twilight in Forks Collection
Forks Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lissy Andros takes part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Forever Twilight in Forks Collection
Christi Baron
"People come from all over the world [...] some people have come to the United States with the sole purpose of visiting Forks," Andros said.
Forks native Christi Baron is the only staff member of the town's newspaper, the Forks Forum, and also serves as president of the Chamber of Commerce.
Baron told CNN that adjusting to the volume of people visiting for "Twilight" was initially baffling and overwhelming for some residents.
Executive Director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce Lissy Andros stands among actors from the "Twilight" films
Executive Director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce Lissy Andros stands among actors from the "Twilight" films
Method Agency LLC
"[A]ll hell broke loose. People were five, six deep on the sidewalks of our little main street and we have one stoplight so it infuriated the locals [...] for a quiet, little town it was just hard to understand the whole thing when it first started," she said. "We'd never had people just want to be here. We were the place that you stopped to get gas on the way to somewhere, we weren't a destination."
In 2005, before the books hit mainstream success, about 5,500 people visited the Forks Visitor Center. By 2010, the town hit its all-time peak of more than 72,000 annual visitors, according to visitor center data.
That's the same year the third film, "Eclipse," was released and ultimately earned more than $690 million worldwide in the box office, according to IMDb.

'It just breathed life back into the town'

"From what I've heard, before 'Twilight' happened, it was pretty depressing. Stores were boarded up. When the 'Twilight' phenomenon first happened, it just breathed life back into the town," Andros said. After reading the books, she made the move to Forks from Texas about 10 years ago because she enjoyed the cooler climate.
Leppell's owner Charlene Leppell said that in 2009 and 2010, fans would get stranded when all of the motel rooms were booked in Forks and in Port Angeles, which is 55 miles away.
"I would call people that I knew had kids away at college that would possibly have an extra bedroom and find places for people to stay. I had sleeping bags on my family room floor more than once," Leppell recalls.
"Twilight" fans take a selfie at the Forever Twilight in Forks Collection
"Twilight" fans take a selfie at the Forever Twilight in Forks Collection
Dave Youngberg/Lands End Images
Over the past 10 years, the visitor center has averaged 40,000 people per year, which Andros believes is still mostly thanks to repeat visitors and new fans discovering the books.
Forks fans, affectionately nicknamed the "fandom family," have provided some unexpected benefits for the community. When the Forks Community Hospital was in need this year of protective equipment for their health care workers as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in the state, fans across the country banded together to sew masks.
Another fan has organized an annual school supply drive since 2017 to benefit the school district in Forks and the Quileute Tribal School in La Push, a town that is also featured in Meyer's books.
One of these superfans, Seattle resident Amy Taylor, has visited Forks every year since 2012. She described the town as a " 'Twilight' Disneyland," expressing her gratitude for the level of detail Forks has put into planning events for fans.
Red pickup trucks inspired by Bella Swan's car in "Twilight" sit in front of the Forks Visitor Information Center
Red pickup trucks inspired by Bella Swan's car in "Twilight" sit in front of the Forks Visitor Information Center
Amy Taylor/@OhMyCarlisle
Taylor remembered when the town opened up Forks High School for tours, dedicated an administrative office in the hospital for one of the characters, Carlisle Cullen, and hosted cosplay actors to reenact some of the biggest moments from the books.
"I appreciate that they're still embracing it after all these years," Taylor told CNN.

Forks has faced crisis before

Forks latched onto the "Twilight" craze in the late 2000s after suffering monumental economic losses from the decline of the timber industry in the late 1900s.
Fierce controversy over environmental measures to protect the old-growth forests and the spotted owl, coupled with a recession and changes in industry, effectively drove most lumber jobs out of town.
The Olympic National Park in Washington State, circa 1960
The Olympic National Park in Washington State, circa 1960
Harvey Meston/Archive Photos/Getty Images
With these devastating losses communities had "virtually no industry compared to what it was before [...] they took every opportunity they could," Dr. Bob Lee, a specialist in the sociology of timber country, told CNN.
"Then the 'Twilight' series came, it was a way for them to get income and have a few jobs," he said.
The Forks Timber Museum pays tribute to perished timber workers for "providing the materials for the backbone of America's greatness" with their Loggers Memorial. The community still holds an annual two-day scholarship auction originally established 55 years ago by loggers to benefit graduating high school seniors. Residents bid on items like baked goods and firewood and recently raised more than $100,000 dollars for students, newspaper editor Christi Baron says.
Loggers balancing on a spar in a Washington logging valley, circa 1924
Loggers balancing on a spar in a Washington logging valley, circa 1924
Darius Kinsey/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Baron said that Forks is not a place that everyone can live. They don't have a shopping mall or movie theater, but she appreciates the generosity of the community.
When she was furloughed for a month because of the pandemic, the town rallied together to collect 800 subscriptions to save the newspaper.
Despite a jarring cultural shift from timber town to vampire tourism, Forks business owners and residents are grateful for the business "Twilight" has brought in. But like countless communities around the United States that have been crushed under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, Forks faces -- yet again -- devastating loss of industry.
The trail to Third Beach in Olympic National Park, circa 2005
The trail to Third Beach in Olympic National Park, circa 2005
Amy Wray/CNN
US Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that Clallam County, where Forks is located, averaged a 6.6% unemployment rate in 2020 before the coronavirus pandemic devastated the nation. In April, the Clallam County unemployment rate hit a peak of 18.8% and has since leveled at 10.9% in June.
At Miller Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast, which is believed to be Meyer's inspiration for the Cullen's house, innkeeper Susan Brager says occupancy has fallen about 60% because of the pandemic.
It is a far cry from the days when Brager and her husband observed hundreds of fans visit daily to take pictures of the Inn. "It's been very difficult," Brager said.
Andros, the executive director of the Forks Chamber of Commerce, says the impact of Covid-19 on the community is "scary" and she hopes that by continually inviting "Twilight" fans back and marketing the natural splendor of the region, Forks will survive the pandemic and the end to Meyer's saga.
A surfer walks through the water at First Beach in Olympic National Park, circa 2005
A surfer walks through the water at First Beach in Olympic National Park, circa 2005
Amy Wray
"Midnight Sun" is not only a fun summer read, but offers a glimmer of hope that nostalgic fans could offer a lifeline again to Forks during a time of great economic uncertainty due to the pandemic.
"You know, things change and there's not much you can do about it other than try to adapt. If you want to live here, you reinvent yourself and your business and try to continue on," Baron said.
Forks will inevitably have to face more economic swings, but based on the community's record of resilience and willingness to embrace change, the townspeople are up for the challenge.