ALADDIN -- The town could be yours. The whole thing – the two-story historic general store, the grass-filled rodeo arena, the seven-space trailer park, the house, gas station, bar, the storage shed and even the two outhouses (one for cowgirls and one for cowboys).
It’s 30 acres: 15 on one side of Highway 24 and 15 on the other. And for a cool $1.5 million, you could be king, or mayor, or leader or just plain owner of a tiny fiefdom in northeast Wyoming.
Current owners Rick and Judy Brengle are selling, though if you want the café and hotel, you’ll have to negotiate with Judy’s sister-in-law.
“We have the Aladdin Water District, and renters pay for their own electricity,” Judy said. “We have a Dumpster and charge them on our rent. Snow removal is whoever has time to do it.”
The 122-year old general store is the real gem. One end is a post office, the other a bar and in the middle a store with a little bit of everything.
The Brengles listed their unincorporated town, population 15, for sale a couple of years ago. Only recently did it go national and even international. They’re not sure why. Maybe because of the store’s age, Judy said.
But it could also be the sheer oddity of a town, albeit a small one, hitting the market rather than fading from history altogether.
Aladdin isn’t Wyoming’s first town to make the real estate pages. Buford, population 1, sold in April 2012 to a Vietnamese businessman for $900,000. No more than a stop along Interstate 80, the convenience store now sells PhinDeli coffee.
Bill Schilling, president of the Wyoming Business Alliance, doesn’t think Wyoming will see many more of these.
Most of the small towns across the West have simply died. Built for their proximity to mines or in ranching centers, when the local industry dried up, so did the towns, he said.
The occupants took their houses with them in many cases. Sunrise, once a bustling mining town outside of Hartville in Platte County is closed and gated. Jeffery City still has dozens of residents, but it’s a far cry from the 4,000 that once lived there. Scores of the buildings were picked up and moved out.
“The same thing applies in the Dakotas, South or North Dakota or Montana,” Schilling said. “You go by an old grain elevator and nothing is around it. The railroad stopped running.”
Other states have seen similar sales to Aladdin and Buford. The Brengles even have another store in South Dakota for sale.
“Only nobody lives there,” Judy said. “Population zero.”
A sign on the front door of the faded, red general store reads: “This Town Is For Sale.” It then lists the included buildings and asking price.
Rick and Judy know selling a town is a bit of marketing gimmick – it’s not really a town as much as 30 acres of deeded property – but it fits with their business model. When they bought the place in 1986, they knew they needed to change something.
Aladdin started with a coal mine in the late 1800s. Creaky remains of the original coal tipple is all that’s left.
The Aladdin store continued after the miners left, serving the surrounding ranching community. Even those days were fading when the Brengles thought about buying the store to add to their ranching business.
“One of our kids came back and leased the café from the former owner, and he was in his 70s, and he said, ‘I wish I could sell this,’” Judy said. “And our daughter said, ‘Sell it to my mom and dad.’”
And he did.
The Brengles opened the second floor of the building to antique consignments where visitors can buy anything from deer antlers to vintage beer cans. They also started marketing Aladdin itself. Aladdin sweatshirts, tank-tops, hats and signs hang on the walls advertising pop. 15 and “We’re all Cowboy.”
A solid stream of visitors pull in and out of their parking lot each day through the summer and fall – enough to keep two employees busy all day. Thousands pile in during the Sturgis motorcycle rally, cozying up to the bar window for drinks and waiting in line at the outhouses – the general store still doesn’t have indoor plumbing.
A wooden bench on the 122-year old porch has seen weddings and one death. No births, yet.
The Brengles, both 69 turning 70, are ready to retire to their ranch. They know any potential buyer would need to be willing to run the store seven days a week. Every day but Sunday someone must sort and deliver mail, and Sunday is typically the busiest day at the store.
Until an offer comes in, that handwritten sign is still a talking piece.
“This town is for sale,” read Tom Waterland, a motorcycle rider from Pennsylvania. “How much? You guys take checks?”
“I got space right here on this bench; you can fill the check out,” Judy said.
Waterland, his wife and two friends talked with the Brengles for a few minutes about the town, store and history, but Judy didn’t give up on her pitch.
The winters aren’t that bad, she said. Wyoming doesn’t have much for taxes. And for a week during Sturgis on their 30 acres, anything goes.