How Aliens Can Help the Economy
CNBC.com News Editor
How’s business in Pine Bush, N.Y.?
“We’re in the middle of an economic meltdown, do you really want to talk about this?” said Lynn Inglima, owner of 1846 House Soapsin Pine Bush, which sells natural soaps at the store, as well as on Etsy.com.
When Inglima, a nurse-turned-entrepreneur, decided to open her shop in a carriage house on her property, five miles outside of downtown Pine Bush, people told her she was crazy.
“I was advised by a lot of other businesspeople that that was a critical mistake,” she said. “And now, I’m in business — and they’re not.”
Pine Bush has taken a hit from the recession. On a recent stroll through downtown, Inglima counted 16 empty store fronts, though she said things are starting to improve — a few new businesses have opened recently, including a photography studio, a dog groomer, and a pizza place.
The rural hamlet of Pine Bush is a hard sell for tourism — it has many dairy and horse farms, and one of its biggest claims to fame was that it was known as the “Butter Capital of the World” in the early 19th century.
But there’s one other thing that it’s been known for that not everyone is keen on talking about — UFO sightings.
Among skywatchers, as UFO enthusiasts are known, Pine Bush is often referred to as the East Coast UFO Capital of the World.
The paranormal activity has been going on since at least the 1960s, though there was a particularly hyperactive period of sightings from the mid-1980s to the 1990s. It’s not just sightings of UFOs, there have also been reports of strobe lights in the sky, orbs of light, and, um ... some close encounters.
“I had things I couldn’t explain,” said Bill Wiand, a computer network specialist in Pine Bush who is also the co-leader of the United Friends Observer Society (UFOs). “I saw a lot of different things in the sky. Lights in the sky. Flying saucers.”
As the area started to become more developed, many viewed the throngs of skywatchers who sometimes interrupted traffic or trespassed on private property as disruptive. Pine Bush didn’t embrace their close encounters as, say, a town like Roswell, N.M., did.
The Orange County Tourismbureau had been pitching the Pine Bush Chamber of Commerceabout embracing their UFO history for many years to no avail — then a little thing called the recession happened and that changed the game.
“I said, ‘It’s crunch time. It’s the 11th hour. You’ve got to decide. If you are serious about economic development and tourism, then this is the way you have to go because this is what you’re known for,’ ” said Susan Hawvermale, the director of Orange County Tourism. “Your retail needs people to buy things beyond your residents and this is something that can bring people to your door.”
And with that, the Pine Bush UFO Festival and Paradewas born.
The event, to be held this weekend, includes a parade on Saturday, with all kinds of adults and kids dressed up like aliens. At an “Alien Hide and Seek,” you’ll find “Alfie the Alien” (see the image above) hidden at different businesses — if you spot him you get a ticket. Gather enough tickets, you get a coupon for a free ice cream cone. Plus, there will be an “Earthlings and Aliens Ball” Saturday night, as well as a “Cosmic Chili Cook-Off” and “Out of This World” car show on Sunday. For true believers, there are also serious lectures on UFO sightings and extraterrestrial life.
So, what do believers think of all of these alien and UFO clichés, people dressed up like little, green men?
“Yes, people make fun of you — it’s OK,” Wiand said. “Most of us have gotten past that state years ago, we’re very tough.”
In fact, some of them downright enjoy it.
Inglima, one of the organizers of the Pine Bush UFO Festival, said they used to try to separate the believer events from the little-green-men events for the masses, but many of the believers balked at being so far away — they wanted to come by and see the parade! So, they moved their venues a little closer to where all the action is.
“It was a way to put us on the map for economic reasons — for tourism,” Wiand said of the festival. “It’s very hard to get people to visit the area. We do have a couple of wine trails, but people don’t go all that often. Now that the recession is here, people are looking for family things to do.”
It’s still been a tough sell for some of the non-believers in the business community, but Inglima said it doesn’t matter if you believe in extraterrestrial life or not.
“I’m not asking you to join the church of the newly abducted!” Inglima said. “Do you believe in money? That’s what you need to believe in. This is marketing wrapped up in little aliens and a parade!”
And, there’s evidence that the number of believers (in the festival) is rising: The first year had 30 businesses participating, last year there were 40, and this year the number has risen to 50.
"I didn't even think there were 50 businesses IN Pine Bush!" Inglima said.
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