The alien economy: Roswell powered by UFO mania

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ROSWELL, N.M. | It’s easy to miss amid the racks of UFO T-shirts and shelves jam-packed with alien memorabilia.

But just inside the door of Max and Luana Stacy‘s downtown Roswell shop hangs a small photo of several glowing orbs in the sky. It was taken through the window of a Southwest Airlines flight in 2015, about a year after the couple opened their store.

“Something kind of told me to sit by the window and I just happened to look out and see that,” Mr. Stacy, 55, told The Washington Times in an interview.

In the years since he took the eerie photo, Mr. Stacy said he‘s been approached by UFO research organizations asking him to file formal reports and share more information about the strange sighting.

He‘s refused.

“Being born and raised in Roswell … I don’t need the men in black coming to visit me,” he said. “Because they do exist.”

Max and Luana Stacy opened their store, Alien Invasion T-Shirts & More, in 2014. It has since become a staple of the alien-powered economy in Roswell, which boasts one of America’s most unique downtowns.

An estimated 15,000 tourists flocked to the city this week for its annual UFO Festival, which combines serious lectures on a host of paranormal subjects with Americana offerings, such as an alien-themed scavenger hunt and a pet costume contest. At the costume contest, several dogs were painted extraterrestrial green.

Most famous as the site of an alleged flying saucer crash in 1947, Roswell has fully embraced its legacy and uses it to draw tourist dollars— and virtually everyone in town has gotten in on the action.

Just around the corner from the International UFO Museum and Research Center sits a bakery with paintings on its facade of aliens holding cakes and donuts.

Up the street, the city’s barbershop has window drawings of aliens getting haircuts. A downtown clinic advertises “health care, alien style” with a blow-up alien in its window dressed in a nurse’s uniform. Banks, print shops, restaurants, and gas stations all have at least a small nod to aliens, UFOs, and the unexplained.

“That’s just the identity of the town,” Mr. Stacy said.

Even the city’s street lamps and official Roswell logo feature aliens and UFOs, respectively. City officials say they’ve worked hard to cultivate Roswell’s reputation as the official UFO capital of the world.

“We’ve got everything from the freaks with the tin-foil hats to the non-believers. And we welcome everybody,” said Andrea Moore, president and CEO of the Roswell Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. Moore said this year’s UFO Festival — the 25th iteration of the yearly event — has drawn a record crowd thanks to a perfect storm of factors. The event was postponed last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and attendees have seemed eager to return to summertime gatherings. And this year’s UFO Festival came on the immediate heels of last week’s major federal government report on unmanned aerial phenomena (UAP), which has fueled a major uptick in public interest in aliens.

The report did not rule out extraterrestrials as the cause of more than 100 unexplained UAP sightings by U.S. military personnel. Many festival-goers this weekend were well aware of the federal study and many said they believe the government is still hiding information from the American people. Mr. Stacy, for example, referred to the report as “the one that came out last week that didn’t really say anything.”

‘Now I know it’s true’

To say that Roswell welcomes conspiracy theorists and alien enthusiasts would be an understatement. Even Mayor Dennis J. Kintigh — a retired FBI agent with a degree in aerospace engineering — embraces UFO culture.

“Yes, I am a retired FBI agent … rocket scientist, FBI agent, mayor of Roswell. And the question is: Coincidence? Or all part of a master plan?” he jokingly said Friday evening at the UFO Festival’s opening ceremony.

For those who aren’t UFO believers, Roswell seems to have a way of changing their minds.

Lucy Dominguez, 53, moved to the city from Chicago about eight years ago. Five years ago, she and her husband, Gus, opened “Gus and Lucy’s Place,” a popular downtown gift shop that sells all sorts of alien-themed clothing and gifts.

But even after opening the store, Ms. Dominguez wasn’t necessarily a true believer.

“In the beginning I didn’t believe, or I was in the middle,” she told The Times. “When I opened the shop I started believing little by little. Now I know it’s true for sure.”

She credits the transformation to a 2019 car trip from Albuquerque to Roswell. She said she witnessed a small light in the distance that came closer and closer before eventually following their car.

“And then in a minute, it disappears,” she said. “From there, I said, ‘This is true.’”

Like virtually all other businesses in Roswell, Ms. Dominguez’s store has seen a massive uptick in traffic during this weekend’s UFO festival.

“For a lot of our businesses, this could very well make their year in the next few days. This is like their Black Friday,” Ms. Moore said.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Stacy said his store enjoyed its best year to date in 2019. He credits the explosion of the downtown Roswell economy to the growing acceptance of UFOs across American culture.

“There’s more and more being exposed,” he said. “Everybody walks around with a camera.”

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