Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

It’s easy to make fun of Twilight. The series is a bastion of teen-girl squealing and poorly written prose about questionable relationships. Still, in the eight years since Little, Brown And Company first published Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novel, the book series has not only been made into five full-length movies, but has sold more than 116 million copies worldwide and spent 235 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list. It’s a phenomenon and a cultural touch point that can’t be ignored.

The Twilight series hasn’t just affected Meyer and her army of teen girl readers. It’s trickled up and down—to those girls’ moms, to older women and men looking for something soapy to read, and to the town of Forks, Washington, where the series is set. While Meyer had never been to the little town—population 3,692—before she wrote Twilight, the timber town has since become one of the biggest tourist attractions on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Since 2005, the town has seen hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to see where the books’ Bella Swan and Edward Cullen spent their days and nights mooning over each other, and where—maybe, just maybe, werewolves (well, shape shifters, really) and vampires live together in relative peace.

Twilight has had a marked impact on the town, which found its main industry, logging, struggling with the downturn in the housing market. About 20 percent of the town’s residents live in poverty, and the average income for a family in town is only $38,844. But by 2008, the town got about 19,000 visitors, and by 2010, the town was pulling in 73,000 visitors a year. Twilight themed stores popped up and even the local grocery store started tagging select deli counter items as “Jacob’s favorite.” That silly little tween book series helped a struggling town flourish.

It’s easy to see Forks’ Twilight pride. Nearly every sign in town boasts a vampire pun or a phrase welcoming fans of the Cullen clan. The town has even launched its own Twilight-themed festival, Stephenie Meyer Day, which draws both local families and Twilight obsessives. The fervor has even spilled over to La Push, Washington, home of fictional Jacob Black’s very real Quileute Indian tribe, and Port Angeles, Washington, the “big city” of 19,056 residents that Bella and her friends frequent for movies and prom dress shopping.

Forks has hopped on Edward Cullen’s strong vampire back with open arms, opening not only stores devoted to the Twilight series, but convincing local residents to turn their homes into the homes of fictional characters. A bed and breakfast called the Miller Tree Inn has become “The Cullen Home” and draws visitors from around the world who want to spend the night sleeping next to Dr. Carlisle Cullen’s office. A middle school teacher’s quaint little cottage has become Bella’s house, complete with an eerie Edward cutout peering out from her supposed bedroom window. And a little beach rental in La Push has become Jacob Black’s house, outfitted with all sorts of lupine home goods and ready for nightly rental. A local hotel, the Pacific Inn Motel, even offers Twilight-themed hotel rooms.

So, yes, while it’s easy to write Twilight off as a stupid little series that got made into some stupid (massive) movies, that trite tale of vampires and humans in love helped thousands of people in the little town of Forks make it through some tough times, and that’s a good thing. As Miller Tree Inn owner Bill Brager told the Pop Pilgrims crew during our visit, “Stephenie Meyer gave this town a gift,” and there’s nothing stupid about that.