The Magnolia Network stars have turned a picturesque pocket of central Maine into Vacationland's latest hotspot
The stars of Maine Cabin Masters may have become TV personalities accidentally — but drawing viewers and visitors to the region they love has always been done with intention and heart.
Their hit Magnolia Network show — which follows contractor Chase Morrill, his decorator sister Ashley, her husband, Ryan Eldridge, and their childhood friends Matt “Dixie” Dix and Jared “Jedi” Baker as they renovate rustic vacation cabins — has made their hometown of Manchester, Maine (pop. 2,500) into Vacationland's newest hotspot.
Fans are making the pilgrimage from around the country and abroad to visit their Kennebec Cabin Company headquarters, retail store and adjoining bar and music venue, The Woodshed — and hopefully, to catch a glimpse of the stars themselves, who are often on site.
“They come from all over. We’ve seen Alaska plates, Hawaii,” Ryan, 48, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.
“A month ago there was a bus of women from Africa, Brazil, three or four different places,” adds Jedi, 44. “They had gotten together to come in hopes of seeing one of us.”
Last summer the gang hosted four lobster bakes there with 350 tickets each that all sold out in a day. During the events, each of the stars was stationed at an individual booth with a Sharpie in hand, ready to sign autographs and take selfies for a line of fans that stretched down the block.
Fans are even buying homes in the area or relocating there full-time, the stars share. (They currently receive more than 100 applications from homeowners who want a renovation each month.) "It's impossible to watch Maine Cabin Masters without dreaming about having this cast remake a lake house just for you," Chris Dorsey of Dorsey Pictures, the show's production company, tells PEOPLE.
The Cabin Masters' popularity has been a major boon for Manchester and the surrounding towns, which are located about an hour north of Portland and inland from the stalwart tourist destinations on Maine's famous coastline.
Visitors "come to see our place and then we send them down to get an ice cream at the best place in Maine, Fielder's Choice, or they go get a bottle of wine at The Lighthouse [restaurant]," says Ashley, 47. (Other local recs from the stars include Manchester Meats and Pat's Pizza.)
Their next local project, already underway, is transforming a former lumber yard into their official workshop. It will be a hub for Kennebec Cabin Co.'s projects and open to other tradespeople in the community who need space to work.
The native Mainers have also made a point to spotlight local businesses and artisans on the show. And just a cameo often has a lasting impact.
Mainely Handrails, located in nearby Fairfield, “appeared on one of our episodes early on. They had four employees and now he's up over 20,” says Chase, 45. After Wayne Village Pottery was featured, their hand-carved loon whistles immediately sold out. Now they sell them at the Cabin Masters' store.
They’re also branching out with their own individual businesses. Ashley just launched a home goods company, Rustic County, and Dixie is opening up a ski tuning shop, Dixie's Tune Shack, this fall.
But the friends aren’t just building their own empire, they’re giving back to the local institutions that support their community. They built an arts and crafts building for the local YMCA camp and a clubhouse for the Adaptive Outdoor Education Center in nearby Brunswick.
Their positive impact is part of a larger shift in the area, they say.
“For a long time, young people were leaving Maine, graduating high school and couldn't wait to pick a college out of state. But now people are starting to stay and making good lives here,” says Ryan. “New restaurants are opening up, the local theater was redone. It really is changing a lot, and I’m proud to say we have had something to do with it."
Asked what it’s like to watch their hometown’s renaissance, Chase explains, “I think it’s not a reawakening, but a realization of what people have. They’re getting back to roots, back to family, back to nature. I think that’s part of why we’ve been so successful, because everybody longs for that.”
Special episodes of Maine Cabin Masters are airing now on Magnolia Network and season 9 premieres Oct. 23.
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