ALADDIN — It sounds like not much is going to change with the tiny rustic roadside hamlet of Aladdin and its landmark historic store, if new owners Maynard and Lee Rude have anything to say about it.
“We’ll probably just leave the wheel like it is and keep going,” said Lee Rude of Piedmont, moments after Rapid City auctioneer Martin Jurisch declared Rude and his father, Maynard, the successful bidders for the better part of the tiny hamlet of Aladdin in the pine-studded hills of eastern Wyoming.
The Rudes recently sold their buffalo ranch near Nisland and moved to Piedmont, then successfully bid $500,000 to buy the Aladdin store, its liquor license, post office, gas station, an adjacent 2-bedroom home, an outbuilding with a walk-in cooler and a seven-unit mobile home park.
Also included is a 17-acre tract on the opposite of Wyoming Highway 24 which includes a quarter-mile frontage of Hay Creek.
Yet to sell is Cindy B’s Café, which served up a pie in honor of the auction, and the Aladdin Motel, a modern 10-unit lodging with an additional four cabins, all built in 2005.
The café and motel, owned by Mike and Debra Wagner of Colorado Springs, received very few bids during the auction. Realtor Stewart Peterson of Gillette was still hoping to get a deal done late Friday.
Lee Rude said he was surprised to see the opening round of bidding for the store property only end with a high bid of $300,000.
The action picked up after Jurisch took a break to let bidders consider their next move. Another bidder finally bowed out at $490,000, and the Rudes had no other challengers.
“We obviously didn’t think it was going to go this cheap. I was thinking at least $750,000 to $800,000,” Lee Rude said.
Soon-to-be-former owners Rick and Judy Brengle were thinking along the same lines.
Rick Brengle was relieved to have a buyer, but admittedly disappointed in the final price of $500,000.
“I thought it would probably start there instead of end there,” Brengle said. “It was an absolute roll of the dice.”
The store, considered one of the best preserved of five surviving Wyoming roadside mercantiles, was built 125 years ago when the town’s then-200 residents were supported by the nearby Aladdin coal mine.
The mine closed and the town’s population dwindled, but the store remained a lucrative business and a popular stop for local ranchers, who’d check in for their mail, a cold beer and a quick bite to eat, as well as tourists on the way to Devils Tower and bikers rumbling to and from the Sturgis motorcycle rally.
The Aladdin Store looks much the same today as it did 31 years ago, when then-owners Gayle and Winifred Weaver put the store and surrounding property up for sale.
Rick and Judy Brengle bought the store in 1986, and after many successful years, decided to scale back, although they still own the Crow Buttes store near Buffalo, SD, and a ranch north of Aladdin.
Before the Friday afternoon auction, Judy Brengle expressed hope Aladdin would continue exuding its old west charm.
“We’re hoping some neighbor or someone who loves it as much as we do gets it and keeps the way it is, because that’s what the neighbors want,” she said.
That includes Pearl Jensen, 84, who has greeted customers at the store for more than 40 years. Jensen ran the cash register and stocked shelves for 11 years for the Weavers, and has worked for the Brengles for more than 30 years.
“I just feel like I’ve tried to put it in God’s hands,” Jensen said. “If I’m still going to have a job, that’s fine, if not, that’s fine too.”
The sale of Aladdin is bargain compared to the 2012 sale of another Wyoming town, Buford (population 1) which sold to a Vietnamese businessman for $900,000.
In South Dakota, the small Bennett County hamlet of Swett went on the sale block in 2014 and again in 2015. The ghost town, with a closed tavern and an apparently haunted house, is reportedly still for sale.
In 2011, a Philippines-based church, Iglesia ni Cristo, spent $700,000 for 46 acres of land and property in the town of Scenic, southeast of Rapid City.