Mystic Falls Tours owner Jessica Lowery stands in the newly opened retail store, On Location Gifts. The store sells a variety of “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals” merchandise as well as memorabilia from other television shows and movies filmed in Covington. Lowery received the 2013 Dick James Small Business of the Year award from the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce for her success in launching the tours and drawing in tourists. (Staff photo: Jessicah Peters)
COVINGTON – From being unemployed to being named the recipient of the 2013 Dick James Small Business of the Year award by the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce, Jessica Lowery has watched her tour-guide venture grow more than she ever expected.
After starting a blog called “Vampire Stalkers,” which she used to write about filming of the television show, “The Vampire Diaries” in Covington, fans reached out to Lowery asking to be shown the filming locations.
When she was laid off from her job as a special education teacher after 10 years, Lowery decided to start the tour-guide business, Mystic Falls Tours.
The tours expanded when “The Originals,” a spin-off from “The Vampire Diaries” began filming in Conyers.
Now three years later, Lowery is the only licensed seller of Warner Brothers’ “The Vampire Diaries” merchandise at her newly opened store, On Location Gifts, on the Square in Covington.
She and her husband, Travis, opened the television and movie merchandise retail store in November.
Lowery said the store’s building was part of the production set in the vampire television series.
“When we outgrew our booth at the antique store, I really wanted to rent this building because it connects fans to the show since it was used in filming,” Lowery said. “But we plan to sell other merchandise for other productions filmed in Covington as well as the Vampire products, which is why we named it On Location Gifts.”
Whether it’s “Dukes of Hazzard” or “In The Heat Of The Night,” Lowery plans to draw in other fans who are interested in productions filmed in Covington.
“’The Vampire Diaries’ fandom is very passionate about the show and that’s helped me be able to grow my business. Not every show can bring this much business through a fan base,” Lowery said. “I never thought that I would own a business successful enough to provide for my family.”
Lowery and her husband have been married for 18 years; now the couple works together on a daily basis in the business venture which she calls “her baby.”
“Travis will tell you that we work well together when he does what I say,” Lowery joked. “But this is my baby, my idea … he’s added an extra aspect to the tours by giving the inside information about make-up, filming process and the cameras because he’s been an extra in a variety of shows and films.”
Lowery said the biggest challenge for her business is the weather since it is a walking tour around the Square and it becomes more difficult to walk the groups around and take photos if the forecast calls for unruly weather.
But she’s not going to use a golf-cart or change the tours from walking to driving.
“We want people to have time to take a picture, re-enact a scene from the show by being staked in the alley so they can take it back home and be able to show off that they were really there. That’s our growing point … we make it more personal and give them the details about what’s going on at the filming locations,” Lowery said. “I want to keep it a small town business where I do the tours and continue to be hands on.”
While the “vampire stalker” seeks to keep her focus on the small town tours, Lowery shared she will soon begin a Hollywood of the South tour in partnership with the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.
Chamber President Hunter Hall commended Lowery for her commitment to bring tourism into the county at the presentation of the Chamber’s annual small business award named in honor of former Chamber President Dick James.
“We get to see the ‘The Vampire Diaries’ tourists coming in, and it’s an absolute zoo when they’re here. I asked one group from overseas on average how much will they spend on the trip to Covington, and they said anywhere from $2,500 to $3,500,” Hall said during the annual Chamber dinner on Jan. 16.
“It’s how our partnership grew,” he said. “Jessica’s tours start at the Welcome Center, go down to the Square and along the way she points out local restaurants, where actors buy things and the tours have become the biggest ‘buy local’ campaign champion.”