Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I want to live in Stars Hollow.

Really, who wouldn't?

Stars Hollow, Connecticut, the town that is the setting for The Gilmore Girls, has everything anyone could want, really. The kids are pretty bright and fairly well behaved, the citizens are only annoying in comical ways, everyone has a job, every storefront is occupied, it has a nifty park with a big gazebo, it has quaint celebrations, it gets all four seasons in the most picturesque ways, the schools seem to be pretty good (if not exceptional), there's a great diner and a lovely B&B, it has a pizzeria and a Chinese restaurant (and yet not one strip mall), everything is in walking distance, you can get groceries and stationery and antiques and books and anything else without going to some big box store five towns over, and a big city is within striking distance if you get bored. 

I'm a casual watcher, my wife being the one who puts it on while I'm working* on the laptop. I enjoy the zippy dialogue and rapid-fire quips; it's one of those shows that give you fifty jokes a minute and if you like thirty, everyone's happy. 

Few people seem really happy in Stars Hollow, but that's all right. I would be if I were there, enjoying life in my century-old two-story home with a nice yard, just steps from downtown.

There's just one thing wrong with the town, actually, and that is: It isn't real.

Stars Hollow (of course it has its own Wikipedia page) was part of the Warner Brothers backlot in Burbank, California, which is why the snow never looked dirty and slushy and the trees were green when people were dressed for fall. Everything has been shot here, including The Waltons, The Muppets, Pretty Little Liars, The Music Man, and The Ghost Whisperer (for part of its run). Probably every Hallmark movie that isn't shot in Canada is shot there. So for a small town that doesn't actually exist, Stars Hollow has a lot of miles on it.

Shows like to feature this kind of town despite the fact that we don't really want to live that way. Most of us would rather drive five towns over and get a good deal for our money than pay higher prices and walk to local shops. Driving is easy; overpaying is hard.**

Stars Hollow is said to be based on some real-life Connecticut towns, including Essex, which is a lovely place on the Connecticut River. I haven't been there in years, but I can attest that it is exactly what you'd want if you like Stars Hollow. Essex, though, has a median household income of $84,937; a median house or condo value of $402,361; and a cost of living index of 144.3, which is considered very high. It's full of little pricey shops and people who can afford them. It's not the kind of town where residents run off to Costco. In other words, it's really better suited for Lorelai Gilmore's wealthy parents, not Lorelai and her daughter.***

And so, as always, it's money money money that makes things nice. Quaint is expensive****. For the rest of us, we've opted to vote with our wallets, and go places where parking is easier, even if that leaves once-busy downtowns empty. I do that too; I do not want to sacrifice financial security to subsidize someone else's bad business decisions*****, and neither do you. That's why we have movements like Shop Locally---to guilt us into patronizing stores with less selection and higher prices.

I wish I had answers for everybody about how to build your own thriving town, but I do know light rail and other boondoggles aren't it.

However, another feature of Stars Hollow that I alluded to earlier is much more important than money. The denizens of the town, bizarre and eccentric though they may be, generally show one another respect, and mostly show deep affection for the place. Such assets are costlier than gold; they are what we can do for our neighbors even when we are flat broke.


* Yes, working. Really. Okay, sometimes. 

** A major theme of my novel Faster & Closer is the impact of retail economy on the people in a small town. "Every blank storefront is the death of someone’s fortune." I know, a regular Fifty Shades of Grey, isn't it? There's a little more to the book than that.

*** It was also inspired by Washington Depot, which has very similar stats, especially the money stats.

**** So buy all my books and give me lots of dough. Thanks.

***** "My quirky artisan underpants and waffle shop is going to take this town by storm! It'll drive all kinds of traffic here, and soon all these empty storefronts will be filled!"

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