Nathan Heffel for NPR
As part of its rebranding effort, Greeley has adopted the slogan "Greeley Unexpected," appearing on a billboard on Highway 34 in Weld County, Colo.
As part of its rebranding effort, Greeley has adopted the slogan "Greeley Unexpected," appearing on a billboard on Highway 34 in Weld County, Colo. Nathan Heffel for NPR
Greeley, Colo., has an image problem. Actually, it's more of an odor problem.
A meatpacking plant is on the northeast side of town, and when the wind blows just right, you can't miss the smell — a cross between a slaughterhouse, a cow farm with manure and other unidentified odors.
A front-end loader piles up manure as a pen is cleaned out at the JBS feed lot west of Greeley, Colo., in 2009. JBS is taking action to reduce the smell from its facilities.
A front-end loader piles up manure as a pen is cleaned out at the JBS feed lot west of Greeley, Colo., in 2009. JBS is taking action to reduce the smell from its facilities. Ed Andrieski/AP
The Odor Hotline has given Greeley residents a chance to describe the hard-to-define smell since 1995. Here are a few examples:
- "old man breath"
- "burnt chicken feathers"
- "feedlot, road tar and stale water"
- "sweet smelling chemical like fertilizer"
- "bad sports shoes"
- "sour milk"
- and, rather dramatically: "dead rotting corpses set in rotting cheese then set on fire"
In fact, the city's website says back in the 1960s, folks joked that that odor was merely "the smell of money." One of the town's main industries was, and is, cattle.
But the northern Colorado city is trying to shake its scent — and its image — in an effort to drum up tourism. A new campaign refutes long-standing presumptions about the city, but a whiff of uncertainty lingers.
The odor didn't truly become a problem until the '80s, when the Denver Broncos held spring training in the city. Media reports about the smell spread like wildfire.
"I think Greeley has got the reputation that we have cattle yards, we have stock yards, we have feed lots within the city limits," says John Pantaleo, a spokesman for Greeley. "And I think that came from the fact that that was true, but that was years ago."
Now, Pantaleo points to an arts community, the University of Northern Colorado, the oldest philharmonic orchestra in the state, and tourism.
The city has taken steps to mitigate the smell, including the creation of an Odor Hotline, which residents can call to report and describe the stench. Reports have declined significantly since the hotline started in 1995; there were 600 calls the year it started and just 25 in 2012. Also, the meatpacking plant now has a smokestack that further reduces the problem.
But the old reputation remains, so the city is constructing a new one.
" 'Greeley Unexpected' is a really nice way to represent the community," says spokesman Panteleo, referring to the city's current slogan. "In fact, it's not what they thought or what they heard in the past."
A $250,000 ad campaign is getting the word out. Of course, this does nothing to actually get rid of the smell — and there's no guarantee it'll work.
This isn't the first time the city has attempted to rebrand itself, either. Nearly a decade ago, it tried, "Great from the Ground Up," which arguably isn't the best slogan for a city with a meatpacking industry.
Nathan Heffel for NPR
Greeley's unfortunate reputation of smelling like cows comes from its meatpacking industry, and facilities like this one near the city.