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The Office is now closed: looking back on Dunder Mifflin - Utica

By DAVE DELLECESE

The Office has closed up shop on NBC, after nine seasons of following the employees of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

And while the show's focus these nine years has been on the Scranton, Pennsylvania branch of the fictional paper company, the show almost found itself located in Utica, New York.

When producers were looking to create an American version of The Office out of the successful series out of the United Kingdom, they had a 'short list' of where they wanted to place the show's setting.

Utica was on that short list, and while they lost out to Scranton, the producers never forgot about the Mohawk Valley, placing one of the fictional company's other branches right in Utica.

Some of the show's producers have said they have ties to Central New York and liked the sound of "Utica," and series writer and actor Paul Lieberstein, who plays Toby, graduated from Hamilton College.

The Dunder Miffling - Utica branch got a few mentions throughout the series, including its employees putting on their game faces to compete at the Dunder Mifflin company picnic.

The Utica branch had its most notable moment, though, in an episode all its own in the the fourth season, appropriately titled, "Branch Wars."

While audiences first got a glimpse of Dunder Mifflin Utica in that episode, whether they knew it or not, they got a glimpse of some real life flavor from the area to help try and sell the setting's authenticity, even though it was shot in Los Angeles.

In the very opening scene, visible on the reception desk is a box of goodies from Holland Farms Bakery and Deli.

"People still have no idea what that box meant unless they were from here and they knew where it came from," said Holland Farms Co-Owner Marolyn Wilson. "It probably wasn't a thrill for them, but certainly for us, from here, it was just great.

While there were only a handful of Mohawk Valley paraphernalia worked into the show's set, there were literally boxes of items accumulated and sent to the producers to be used.

It was all collected by the Mohawk Valley Chamber of Commerce, which acted as the conduit between the area and the show's producers.

Frank Elias was the President of the Chamber of Commerce when the producer's came looking.

"They did not identify themselves as The Office, only until we inquired and asked a little bit more and when we did, they said, 'all right, it's on the QT because this isn't airing yet and we don't want to let the cat out of the bag,'" Elias said.

When the Scranton crew take a road trip to the Utica office for some inter-branch sabotage and are caught, there is plenty to see in the office of Karen Fillipelli, now the head of Dunder Mifflin - Utica.

Plaques on the wall, artwork of the area, and a copy of the Utica Phoenix newspaper all dot the office landscape.

It all was in an effort to evoke the real Mohawk Valley in the fictional one on screen, and when the call went out, organizations and individuals responded in droves with donations.

"It must have been five full boxes," Elias said. "Some of the...archives...some of the material that came forward was...unique. It highlighted our area very well. I think back to one piece of artwork, Nancy Ford, had a skyline picture of the greater utica area with the moon overhead in the sky, and that was on the show.

For any regular viewer of The Office, the episode was a standard misadventure that often came with having Michael Scott as a boss. For those from the Mohawk Valley, though, who spotted pieces of their hometown on screen, that road trip to Dunder Mifflin - Utica was much more.

"My daughter, who lives in Boston, and her friends are avid 'The Office' watchers out there and so when that box came up, and they knew the box, because she brought stuff out, they screamed," Wilson said. "All of a sudden her phone lit up, you know, 'what's going on, is that your mother's box?' So it was very exciting."

"It was exciting to see," Elias said. "I could only wish that they had done more things involving our community on the TV show."

From Utica to Scranton, from east coast to west, audiences have said an official goodbye to the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company.

As the paper gets folded away on Thursday nights, there's always reruns, DVDs and Netflix, where you can do it again and again and again.

As Steve Carrell's Michael Scott would likely say, "That's what she said."

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