Tourists flock to ‘Duck Dynasty’ hometown amid controversy

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by MARCELINO BENITO

KHOU 11 News Houston

Posted on May 14, 2014 at 2:05 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 14 at 2:05 PM

WEST MONROE, Louisiana -- It is an empire built along the river. A place where being called a "redneck" is a compliment.

"Less dirty housewives," Bucky Newell said, "more clean rednecks."

West Monroe, Louisiana, is a tiny town right off of I-20 built on faith, family, and ducks. It's home to reality TV's most popular family. The Robertson's duck-calling business, Duck Commander, is now a multimillion dollar business including A&E's hit reality series Duck Dynasty.

It tells the story of patriarch Phil Robertson, his bearded sons, their families, and their "ordinary" lives in West Monroe.

"Reason it works is because it's clean, it's wholesome -- it ain't just a bunch of garbage," Newell said.

Newell co-owns Duck Diner, a new restaurant in town. He's known the Robertsons for years.

"That's what rednecks do - they break wind, they burp, they spill stuff on themselves - that's the appeal," he said.

That Average Joe appeal has turned the Duck Commander Warehouse into a tourist mecca. Thousands of people flock here from all over the world. They want to experience the way the Robertsons live their lives every week. They watch it on TV, but they want to experience it up close.

“You can’t come thru this part of the country without seeing the guys from Duck Dynasty," said Jim Leatherman, a tourist visiting from Maryland. "It absolutely is a fever, it's a culture thing."

It's a fever the visitors' bureau doesn't want to kick. Tourists keep driving in from Mexico, Canada, and every state. They're all looking for the same thing.

"'Follow the beards' is what we say," said Sheila Snow, with West Monroe's Visitor Bureau.

The town started the Duck Commander Hometown tour. They're places in town where the Robertsons have been before, like Haskell's. where tourists pop in for a donut, or Duck Diner for a chicken-fried steak with a side of Duck Dynasty.

"Makes me very proud to live here," Nicole Currington said.

“Anything that brings people in to the area how could it not be good for you,” Newell said.

But last December, one interview almost brought the Duck Dynasty down. Phil Robertson told GQ Magazine that gays were sinners. Critics thought it would doom the TV hit. Robertson was suspended from the show. But weeks later, he was re-instated after mounting pressure from the public.

The critics were wrong. The show survived. Ask the locals and they'll tell you why.

"Freedom of speech -- you have a right to say what you want to say," said John C. Brown, captain of the Duck Commander River Cruise.

Folks here don't care Robertson said gays were doomed to hell. They backed the family that brought the spotlight to their tiny town. The Robertsons are honest, and perhaps most importantly say residents, they love God.

"They bring back the old values, which is what this country needed -- faith, Jesus,” Currington said.

"Right is right and wrong is wrong," Allen Tregry said. "Sometimes there's no gray area if you believe in the Bible."

Fans of the show are now praying the tide doesn't turn. Ratings were down this season. But those prayers are turning to profits.

Business is still booming. The duck souvenirs are still flying off the shelves, and duck calls are louder than ever. Tourists say they're craving something authentic.

"It's just real. It reminds me of my grandpa," said Anna Hightower, a tourist from Shreveport.

And tourists have found what they're looking for in West Monroe, Louisiana.

"Change the channel if you don't like it," Tregry said.

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