Usually only puppies or lemonade are advertised by a sign hand-written in marker that’s tacked to a door. Thus, visitors entering the Aladdin General Store don’t realize they need to do a double-take until the screen door slams behind them with a satisfying smack. Then they come back out to look again.
“Town For Sale,” the sign reads. “30 acres, store, house and bar, trailer park, post office.”
Asking price? $1.5 million.
So far, nobody has coughed up the dough to buy Aladdin, Wyoming (located on Wyoming Highway 24 between Belle Fourche, South Dakota, and Devils Tower National Monument).
The town’s busiest time of year will arrive in early August with the boisterous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. A prospective buyer could be among the thousands of well-to-do bikers who stop for a rest on the store’s shady porch. But haggling is impossible with Judy Brengle.
Aladdin’s owner for the past 28 years and her husband, Rick, live on a ranch seven miles down the road and operate another store in South Dakota. The Brengles are looking to slow down.
“We bought this place because I had empty-nest syndrome,” said Judy. “All our kids had gone to college, so my husband bought me a town.”
That was in 1986. Since then, the no-nonsense ranch wife has served as Aladdin’s mayor, postmistress, chief of police and more. Of the 15 buildings that make up Aladdin (it also has a population of 15), the big prize is the 118-year-old General Store.
Aside from a new roof, the Brengles haven’t changed a thing about the two-story mercantile, which is one of the five oldest in Wyoming. It’s the most well-preserved in the state, down to the pot-bellied stove used for heat. The interior woodwork, cabinetry and windows are all original. So are the roll-top storage bins behind the counter and the peeling wallpaper upstairs in Aladdin’s Antique Attic. The place sells everything from fishing supplies, groceries and antiques to art, beer and hardware. It has never had running water and boasts two of the last functioning outhouses around.
Possibly, a buyer will be lured by the name Aladdin, bestowed on the town in 1894 by organizers hoping to realize the same riches as the folk-tale character in Arabian Nights.
Coal had first been discovered in the area in 1882 and was hauled by ox team to Belle Fourche, South Dakota, to be loaded on rail and sent to the gold mines of the Black Hills. Then in 1889, a line directly from Aladdin was built by the Wyoming & Missouri River Railroad, and the town was laid out by its president, Pennsylvania coal magnate Mahlon Kemmerer.
In 1896, Bill Robinson built the General Store, which was then called Wyoming Mercantile (he died soon thereafter and the title was transferred to Kemmerer). The structure has been open ever since, and has served at various times as a saloon, general store, stage station, post office, barber shop, telephone office, depot, freight office and gas station.
Coal production and shipment slowed drastically by 1910, when the train had dropped from five trips a week to Belle Fourche to just one.. In 1922, the mines and railroad were sold to local interests and by 1928 the railroad closed down.
Three coal-mining towns just east of Aladdin didn’t survive (Bakertown, Barrett Town and Hay Creek). However, the coal tipple from the first underground mine in the area, in what was Bakertown (about a mile east of Aladdin) remains as it was in 1899, jutting out from under a sandstone cliff. Visitors today can take an interpretive walk around the tipple. Aladdin’s café was established in the late 1950s, along with the motel. But it was the General Store that helped Aladdin avoid ghost-town status.
In part, that’s because its owners have always worked hard. When Brengle isn’t ordering apparel or doing inventory, she’s sorting mail or selling beer and cigarettes. She has no plans to drop the price of Aladdin, because she has grandkids who will continue tending the store and post office indefinitely.
“We’ve had several interested buyers, but not very many people want to work seven days a week,” said Judy, whose husband and granddaughter also work at the store.
The post office at the east end of the store contains an historic safe and wooden slots that receive mail six days a week. Brengle’s daughter-in-law, Roberta Noyce, delivers the mail from Aladdin to rural customers three days a week. At the west end is the bar.
“The bar has always just been a liquor store, but you can drink on the porch or anywhere on these 30 acres,” Brengle says cheerfully.
With striking white hair and piercing blue eyes, she’s no-nonsense but fashionable in a skirt and boots. She’s busy – but not too busy, say, to come outside and act impressed when a local kid wants to show her the lift kit on his new red pickup.
The Brengles also formerly owned the next-door café and motel, which they sold after 15 years to Rick’s sister-in-law Cindy Brengle. Then in 2003, she sold the property to her own sister. Debbie and Mike Wagoner built a new hotel and still serve hand-made hamburger patties and homemade pies at the café. Today the 1.38-acre spread containing Cindy B’s Café and the Aladdin Motel are for sale collectively for $549,000.
“We live in Colorado and it’s becoming too hard to keep traveling,” said Debbie, whose motel is booked solid through the rally.
Aladdin isn’t the only small town to have been sold lock, stock and barrel. In fact, just over $2 million for four businesses on 31 acres might be a steal. Consider that 89-year-old Verlie Doing wants just under $5 million for the 41 acres under Searchlight, Nevada. (it contains a casino, motel and former brothel). In June, Searchlight native Harry Reid sold his 110 acres there to a mining company for $1.7 million.
Lance Benson just offered up the six-acre town of Swett, South Dakota, complete with bar, workshop and house, for $400,000. And a couple of years ago, Barbara Walker put the town of Pray, Montana, up for sale for $1.4 million. Finally, if the Brengles ever get anxious, they can hold an auction like the one through which the town of Buford was sold in April 2012.
Don Sammons was Buford’s sole inhabitant in what was billed as America’s smallest town, and he offered up the 10-acre spread with a store and fuel station, cell tower, three-bedroom house and historic schoolhouse. Experts had expected Buford to bring less than $300,000. A Vietnamese businessman bought it with a bid of $900,000.
The sight greeting tourists and local ranchers approaching the familiar red General Store in Aladdin has never changed, but a new buyer might have other ideas. Although the store is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, that doesn’t guarantee protection from development or destruction.
History buffs can only hope a new owner has different intentions than Doug Guller, who bought a similar tiny railroad town – Bankersmith, Texas – in 2012 and changed the name to Bikinis, Texas, in honor of his “breastaurant” chain.