The Welcome Stairways Diner, Mulhoney, Wisconsin
The Big Cheese: Wisconsin
Let's start out big—like a big wheel of cheese—a big wheel of Wisconsin cheese, that is. Hope Was Here is largely set in America's Dairyland or, as Hope lovingly dubs it, the "land of lactose" (7).
In Hope's mind, nothing could be further (we're talking literally and figuratively) from Brooklyn, NY, the best place she's ever lived. Hope's convinced that she's headed for a life of total boredom compared to Brooklyn, but the move to Wisconsin has much more in store for her than green rolling hills and dairy farms. Hope just doesn't know it yet.
The Little Cheese: Mulhoney
We need to cut through the giant wheel of Wisconsin cheese to reach the smaller setting of this story. And by small we mean the little town of Mulhoney, population 5,492. Hope can't envision herself in a rural setting ("We're city people!), and as she and Addie drive through the "dinky dairy town" (44) for the first time, Hope's spirits sink faster than the Titanic. Slick's Barber Shop, the Tick Tock Clock Shop, and Scarlotti's World of Cheese don't exactly compare to Times Square.
What Hope's unable to see from the passenger seat of Addie's Buick, however, is the strong sense of community that runs through Mulhoney, the very force that either brings people together or tears them apart. Fortunately for Hope, it works in her favor. While she initially feels "[...] like Dorothy plopped down in Munchkin Land" (51), the small town and the people who live there are what lead her down the yellow brick road to a purposeful life. She readily admits that she would have done anything not to move Mulhoney, but in no time finds great satisfaction from working on G.T.'s campaign to combat corruption.
The Cube of Cheese: Welcome Stairways Diner
The true setting of Hope Was Here, the Welcome Stairways diner, lies at the hub of our giant wheel of Wisconsin cheese. In fact, it is the hub. There's not a whole lot to do in town and the diner is the perfect place to meet up with friends and share a good plate of gossip. It turns out to be the perfect place for Hope, too. The place where friendship, love and family finally come her way.
Aside from the initial cold shoulder she gets from Lou Ellen, Hope is treated warmly by the other employees at the diner and they soon become her friends. Her relationship with Braverman eventually turns romantic and Hope finds herself with "the greatest boyfriend of the twenty-first century" (161).
Nothing makes Hope happier, though, than the bond she develops with G.T. The more time she spends with the man, the more she comes to admire and respect him. When G.T. marries Addie, Hope finally gets a father. Although G.T. is much different from the biological dad she has envisioned in her dreams (and her scrapbooks) all these years, she knows he's "as real and true a father as a human being will get in this world" (172). And she found him at a little diner in a small town in a distant state. We guess there is life beyond New York City.