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SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2007
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Sweet Home Alabama
After extensive search for the perfect place to retire, California couple chooses Decatur

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com · 340-2446

Choosing a new place to live — whether across town or across the country — is not an easy decision, but few work at it as hard as Tony and Mary Cocciolo.

In fact, he retired in California two years before she did and spent that time immersed in books and magazines about the best places to live, newspapers from cities they wanted to check out, and Internet sites for cities and towns.

“I was so picky; I even got tornado reports,” Tony said, and he checked on water supply, tax status, roadside trash and government problems, too.

He made lots of research trips from their home in Beaumont, Calif., and sometimes she went with him. They knew what they wanted, and they figured they’d know it when they found it.

And when they got to Decatur, they knew.

“I wanted to move somewhere that felt totally different from California,” said Mary, 59, who spent her entire life there and taught elementary school for 36 years.

“I wanted to leave California 40 years ago,” said Tony, 63. He had lived in Oregon when young and then in North Carolina and Germany while in the military service, but most of his life was spent in Southern California, where he was computer network administrator for Riverside Community College District.

“After he retired, my teacher friends would ask me if Tony was on another one of those ‘Shangri-La tours,’ as they called it, looking for the perfect place to live,” Mary recalled.

While daughter Julie lives in Rialto, Calif., son Anthony is in New York City and daughter Laura in Arlington, Va., so they thought their parents needed to move to the East Coast.

“But every time we visited them, it was just so cold, and there were so many people there,” said Mary.

“We were looking for the right climate and didn’t want to live where everybody wore ski masks,” her husband said.

Laura and her husband said they could get a condo in Arlington for $600,000, but Tony didn’t see the bargain, because his research showed Alabama is the lowest in taxation and Virginia ranks 23rd with the highest taxes in the South.

So they traveled together and separately and checked out “hot spots” rumored to be perfect for retirees.

They tried cities like Goldilocks tried beds, and when they got to Decatur, it felt just right.

Here, they said, they found caring, friendly people and all the amenities they wanted, such as plenty of shopping and restaurants (some within walking distance); historic neighborhoods with distinctive homes and great neighbors; four seasons and good weather; parks, tennis courts and sidewalks for their power-walking and exercise; and an airport close by.

They first visited Decatur one year ago, and then they came to the area again in April.

“When we flew out of the Huntsville airport, I was crying, because I didn’t want to leave,” said Mary.

But Tony reminded her they had to go back to California and sell their house and pack.

And what a move it was. They decided to sell their house with everything in it — silverware, linens, furniture, all of it. Their children flew in to check on them.

“We finally figured out they were there for an intervention — they thought we’d lost our minds,” said Mary.

“Then we packed up our clothes and photos and took what would fit in our two cars and drove across the country in five days.”

They had decided on Decatur, but they were still searching for a house when they arrived last fall.

Real estate agent Cynthia Volin had been in touch with them for a year, providing information on the city and neighborhoods, so she showed them 20 houses in one day and had scheduled a second marathon.

“It was so much fun to work with these delightful people who decided they wanted to live in our town,” said Volin, who also said having information about the city on the Internet is very important.

“I got to watch as they discovered that the reality of Decatur exceeded their expectations — and their expectations were already very high.”

Mary said they had been communicating online with 12 to 15 agents all over, and the others eventually gave up on them, but Volin didn’t.

“Once I saw this house on Grant Street, I didn’t want to go any further,” Tony said.

They signed papers for their Grant Street Southeast home and moved in. Then they began shopping for everything they needed while they slept on an inflatable bed for a week and ate down the street at The Backe Door.

When their children all came for Christmas, they loved the city, too, and were impressed that someone took their visiting dog to the animal shelter after he escaped, and they were able to reclaim him.

The Cocciolos like to walk to Delano Park, a favorite spot. Mary said she is a “hole digger” and is watching the Delano rose garden to learn what to plant in her yard, while Tony, a Southern history buff already, is looking forward to seeing Shiloh and other Civil War re-enactments.

“There are so many things to do here,” Tony said.

His wife added, “And you can get to all of it without being stuck on the freeway.”

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