Is Falls Church the Harry-est Town in America?

Michael Giberson

As observed at Freakonomics, my home town of Falls Church, Virginia is (at present) leading’s contest to be the “The Harry-est Town in America.” Freakonomics puts it concisely:

Whichever town pre-orders the most copies of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will receive a $5,000 Amazon gift certificate, to be directed by the winner to a local charity. The numbers are calculated on a per capita basis using the latest census, and a city must have a population of more than 5,000 to qualify.

I can believe Falls Church tops the list. Lots of over-educated parents, above average incomes, and relatively literate children: the demographics are in our favor. When the local Borders bookstore hosted J.K. Rowling for a book signing a few years back, the line stretched out the door and fully around the strip shopping mall for maybe a quarter mile. Some customers queued in costume.

Still, I wonder if Amazon is doing the math right. A few years back Falls Church was reported as leading the state in per capita alcohol consumption. Like Amazon, the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control was adding up sales and dividing by census numbers, and Falls Church was on top. (Apparently, instead of seeing this as an economic development bonus — Number one in schools and booze! — some people in the city leadership were embarrassed. In the Washington Post the headline was “Falls Church Aghast at Dubious Alcohol Statistics” (January 3, 1998). Surprisingly, “some people in the city leadership” were correct.) As it turned out, the Virginia ABC summed up sales in state-owned alcohol stores by postal designation and divided by the census numbers. However, Falls Church, the Northern Virginia postal designation includes a population in Fairfax County about ten times the size of Falls Church city, an independent Virginia jurisdiction. That substantial slip up in data analysis gave us a leg up in the per capita standings.

I wouldn’t be suprised if Falls Church has legitimately captured numero uno on Amazon’s HP7 list, for good or ill it is that kind of place. But I also wonder if some magical math might be boosting our good fortunes, too.

(And, by the way, if Amazon really wants to make a charitable gift, shouldn’t they be directing their attention to the communities at the bottom of the list, not the top?)

One thought on “Is Falls Church the Harry-est Town in America?

  1. By the way, the cities of Vienna and Fairfax Virginia may be benefitting from the same kind of miscalculation.

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