Michele Kress labored over her decision.
Should she choose the pink Myrtle Manor tank top or the white one?
On Wednesday afternoon, the 30-year-old Statesville, N.C., woman perused souvenirs in the gift shop at Myrtle Beach’s most famous trailer park, the one Kress discovered on TLC one day when she caught an episode about two women gossiping over a guy both had dated.
“It is really funny,” said Kress, who was quickly hooked on “Trailer Park: Welcome to Myrtle Manor.” “They’re just real people.”
The show makes real money for Myrtle Beach, too.
How much? More than $101 million per year, according to a Coastal Carolina University study released this week.
“Unbelievably amazing,” said Dana Painter, whose family owns the park. “It greatly exceeded anything we could have ever dreamed of.”
The show, which recently wrapped up its third season, chronicles the misadventures of residents in Patrick’s Mobile Home Park — the manor’s real name — which sits off Highway 15 in Myrtle Beach.
Karen Maguire, a Coastal accounting professor, met Painter, a CPA, a few years ago when she was speaking at a conference. The two reconnected later and discussed the possibility of researching the show's impact on the local economy.
The project began last fall as part of the university’s Community and Business Engagement Institute, a new venture that pairs Coastal's business experts with elite students to tackle financial challenges for organizations and businesses. Myrtle Manor is the CBE's first research effort.
Maguire looked at many factors: how much the reality show’s crew members spent in the area, the value of the publicity and even retail sales from the gift shop.
Her estimates, which she described as conservative, found production crew spending exceeded $2 million and merchandise sales reached nearly $800,000. If each hour of the show has the value of a 30-second commercial, she said the free promotion is worth about $3.3 million.
“Essentially, the Myrtle Beach chamber of commerce is getting free press and free advertising,” Maguire said.
But the big number came from film-induced tourism.
So how did Maguire get her numbers?
“I took the bottom of the rung,” she said. “So if 1 percent of the people that come to visit the Grand Strand believe that any of their decision was influenced by Myrtle Manor and what they saw, that is $101 million a year of economic impact.”
Park owner Cecil Patrick said he knew the show was popular -- tourists from every state and many foreign countries have visited the manor -- but the Coastal numbers surprised him.
“We had no concept at all,” he said. “I mean, if somebody had asked me to give my largest guess I’d have been nowhere close. But I’ve been telling people since Day 1 that they did not realize how big this show was. These numbers are going to prove it.”
Patrick has long argued that the show promotes the Grand Strand. Many visitors to the park, he said, have told him they came to Myrtle Beach just to see his place.
But some tourism leaders haven’t embraced the manor, arguing it portrays the area in a negative light.
Maguire said that sentiment is common in communities that have hosted reality shows. However, she pointed out that two researchers at Fairleigh Dickinson University found the program “Jersey Shore” left viewers with a more positive opinion of New Jersey than those who had never seen characters such as Snooki or The Situation.
“They believe people are seeing past the 'Jersey Shore' folks,” Maguire said. “They said it's better to have these folks talking about the shore, which is what they are, rather than talking about the turnpike. ... The following year they said the show was showing off New Jersey's greatest asset, which is not Snooki but the shore.”
For Patrick and his family, the Coastal study is validation.
“It’s going to blow some people’s damn minds,” he said. “I’m telling you.”
One person who wasn't surprised was Kress, the Tar Heel tourist who received a photograph autographed by the Myrtle Manor cast after spending more than $50 at the gift shop. Her purchases included a tank top, T-shirts and a commemorative keychain.
As she pushed her dogs Ollie and Pinky in a stroller, Kress said the draw of the manor shouldn't shock anyone.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “I think it would be expected that a lot of people would want to come and see it.”
Contact CHARLES D. PERRY at 626-0218 or on Twitter @TSN_CharlesPerr.
By the numbers
$101 million | Estimated economic impact of Myrtle Manor on Grand Strand
$3,338,000 | Advertising value if each Myrtle Manor episode is treated as a 30-second commercial
$2,078,270 | Estimated spending of Myrtle Manor production crew in Myrtle Beach area
$790,142 | Myrtle Manor merchandise sales
Source | Coastal Carolina University