ALDERSON, W.Va. – A sign at the Dinner Bell restaurant just outside town reads: "Welcome Martha. Welcome to Alderson."
Martha is Martha Stewart (search), and by Friday the federal women's prison in this town of about 1,000 people will be her home for the next five months.
Dinner Bell manager Annette Kellison said she is not so sure a 63-year-old woman deserves to be at Alderson (search) for a first offense. But "I'm so glad she's coming here," Kellison said.
The homemaking authority was sentenced to Alderson after she and her broker were convicted in March of lying about a stock sale.
The famous and the felonious are nothing new to the town of Alderson, where the prison that opened in 1927 has seen the likes of Billie Holiday, Tokyo Rose (search), Axis Sally, and would-be presidential assassins Squeaky Fromme and Sara Jane Moore.
Yet none has attracted as much attention as Stewart. The media are in force here, and town residents are not averse to profiting from it.
Harold Massie declined to say how much he is charging to allow satellite trucks park in his field outside the prison's gates.
Neighbor Jef Harris is charging about $100 a day to let one media company rent his forklift.
"It's a little out of hand," Harris said. Along the wall on one of his lumber company buildings, Harris has tacked a 9-by-12-foot gray tarp with the words "We love you Martha" painted in white Martha Stewart brand paint.
One clothing store and gift shop ordered dozens of shirts with the slogan, "West Virginia Living, it's a good thing," a reference to Stewart's catch phrase.
Another style says, "Alderson, West Virginia. A great place to visit."
Jim Whitlock, who manages the only motel in Alderson, said, "We've had a few media people stay here, but it's always busy on the weekends."
While some are profiting from the experience, others are inconvenienced and don't understand why Stewart is such big news.
"We do a lot of deliveries at the prison, and it has been hectic," said hardware store worker Skip Thompson. "The town is just not used to that.
Becky Pence, who lives on the road where television trucks are lined up, said she nearly hit one newsperson who was standing in the road Thursday.
"It's getting out of hand when you can't get to your own home," said Pence, who does not plan to watch for Stewart's arrival. "It's more interesting watching the newspeople instead of her."
Harris and other residents do not expect to see Stewart when she arrives at the 105-acre minimum-security prison along the Greenbrier River. In fact, because of her celebrity, residents do not expect Stewart will accompany other inmates who volunteer to work around town cleaning trash from the riverbank and pulling weeds.
"It's so sad she's so gifted and talented but we won't be able to enjoy it because they won't let her into the community," Kellison said.
Stewart will be eligible for jobs that pay only 12 cents to 40 cents an hour while in prison. But Harris said he expects Stewart will profit from the experience.
"She's Martha and she has the ability to turn things into gold," Harris said. "She will turn this whole experience into money. It will be a good thing for her."