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New Jersey prepares for life after ‘Sopranos’

As “The Sopranos” begins its final season April 8, scores of Jersey businesses and residents are preparing for life without the cast and crew they have encountered over the past eight years.
/ Source: The Associated Press

When the pig is on the roof, people know “The Sopranos” is not far behind.

The life-size pig sits on an old boarded-up building that will soon come to life as Satriale’s, a fictional pork store where Tony Soprano and his Jersey crew hang out on HBO’s acclaimed mob drama.

As the show begins its final season April 8, scores of Jersey businesses and residents are preparing for life without the cast and crew they have encountered over the past eight years.

The show is mostly filmed at a New York City soundstage, but many scenes are shot in the Garden State to provide a real Jersey feel. Most towns and business owners welcome “The Sopranos” — they get to watch the filming, snap photos of the actors and even earn some money.

Many scenes have been shot in Kearny, a working-class town across the Passaic River from Newark and about 9 miles west of Manhattan. Residents have learned to recognize hints that a shoot is imminent.

“When you see those signs going up on the poles when you drive down Kearny Avenue, then you know it’s getting close,” Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos said, referring to the fliers advising residents that streets will be closed. “And when the pig goes on the roof, you know it’s really close.”

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And when the Sopranos are in town, you do what they say — for a price.

The Irish-American Association, which occupies the building next to Satriale’s, takes down its Irish flag and flies an Italian flag during filming. The association has been paid $20,000 in rental fees over the years, said Richard Dunleavy, past vice president. The town of Kearny has collected permit fees of $76,650.

“I’m sorry this will be the last season,” Dunleavy said. “They will be missed.”

The end of the show also will mean a different look for various “Sopranos” locales. The Satriale’s building will be torn down and replaced with condos and a parking garage. In nearby Lodi, the Satin Dolls strip club, better known as the Bada Bing, will be renovated.

“It’s an old building,” said Satin Dolls general manager Nick D’Urso. “We like to keep up with current trends and keep a fresh face on the nightclub.”

While Kearny is a regular spot, scouts were always looking for sites across Jersey to illustrate the scripts, said Regina Heyman, the show’s location manager and a Jersey girl who grew up in Montclair. She said show creator David Chase is “avid about wanting it to be authentic. He grew up there. He wrote it for there.”

The show employs four full-time scouts who drive around the state, sometimes for days, before finding a restaurant, office building or home to match what the writers dreamed up.

Scouts looked at 25 houses before they found Janet Cole’s 121-year-old home, which was used for an episode in which Tony dreams he’s gone to heaven and is visited by his dead cousin, played by Steve Buscemi.

“We weren’t really sure if we wanted to do it, and it would depend on the content of that particular episode,” said Cole, who hadn’t seen the show and watched DVDs to get a better sense of it. The family agreed, and had a great time watching the overnight shoot.

Other locations weren’t as hard to find, such as a retirement community in West Orange called Green Hill. It became the setting for Green Grove, a fictional retirement community where Tony’s mother, Livia, lived early on in the series and emerged again last season.

“I think the inspiration for Green Grove came because David Chase had his mom at Green Hill a while ago when it first started,” said Toni Davis, Green Hill’s executive director.

When the scouts needed a conference room with a view of downtown Newark for an office scene, they eventually found attorney Kevin Marino, who was thrilled.

“They shot one scene, and so much effort went into it,” he said. “You really get a sense that a lot of hours go into just a few minutes.”

There’s a familiar aftermath at a half-dozen other sites around northern New Jersey where the show has filmed: photos of the actors and tales of invasion by dozens of cast and crew members.

They spent a day at Clear Eyes RX in Wayne, which fronted as an optical store owned by Ginny Sack’s brother. Co-owner Fred Siwiec was surprised at how many technicians came in to change all the light bulbs, take measurements and hang their own posters for the merchandise.

“It was amazing to watch,” he said, standing in front of photos of himself and Paulie. The business was compensated $6,000, he said.

The scouts eventually found Nori Sushi in Wayne for a scene where Carmela and Tony dine. Heyman said the script called for a specific look, and the restaurant also had to hold 75 people.

“There were plenty that didn’t fit the bill of being in a strip mall,” she said. “Once you find (the right place), the layout doesn’t always work. A lot of sushi restaurants are small.”

The show’s work on location also has led to friendship and hospitality. Members of the Irish-American Association, the building next to the pork store in Kearny, have shared drinks with the cast and crew. But Dunleavy has yet to score an autograph from James Gandolfini, who plays Tony.

“Getting to Tony is like getting a meeting with the pope,” he said. “So I just left him alone and hope to get my picture with him before he finishes up this job.”