If you’ve ever thought you could run a town better than those in charge, a South Dakota businessman may have a great deal for you. He’s selling his town of Swett for $399,000--that’s about the price of a studio apartment in New York City.
The unincorporated town in Bennett County is two hours southeast of Rapid City, the state’s second-largest city, located along US Highway 18. It consists of 6.16 acres of land, a house, the Swett Tavern bar, a workshop and three trailers. The current owner, Lance Benson, and his wife live in the house; they are the sole residents of the town.
Benson is the owner of a travelling concession business, and is selling the town to focus on that core business, he told the Rapid City Journal.
"Like I say, I hate to get rid of it," he said. "If I don't sell it, if I don't sell it this first year, I would probably keep it."
The town was created by a local farmer named Swett, who owned a grocery store. In 1932, a post office was added to the store. But by 1945, the government decided the town of about 40 people was too small and closed the post office, according to the listing from Rapid City Coldwell Banker, LKH Real Estate agent Stacie Montgomery.
As the population fell in the latter half of the 20th Century, ownership of the various buildings became consolidated. Eventually, one person owned the whole thing. Ownership changed hands a few times before Benson bought the town — by then just “little more than a few ramshackle buildings,” according to the Journal — in 1988. He and his wife moved in, but subsequently divorced. During those proceedings, he signed the town over to her. But in 2012, he reacquired it. He has since remarried, bringing the population back up to two.
"And Daisy, that makes three," joked Wayne Witt, a friend of Benson's, referring to the couple's rottweiler mix.
Unlike the rest of the town, the local bar is still active and boasts several modern upgrades, according to the listing: “The Swett Tavern has had many updates, including a new horseshoe shaped bar, coolers, grill, insulation, camera system. Very clean, open, and updated, the bar also has an extra party room, plus a stage area.”
Last Thursday, a Journal reporter headed to the bar to get the lay of the land.
"This place is pretty much where the highway ends and the Wild West begins," joked 47-year old Gerry Runnels. The third-generation Swett Tavern patron has been visiting the bar since he was seven years old, and it’s where he learned to play pool. Runnels quoted an Oklahoman who once stopped by for a drink. "He said you need a Bowie knife to get in this place and a chainsaw to get out," the patron said with a laugh.
But potential investors shouldn’t fear. Under Benson’s ownership, Swett Tavern has become a more reputable place. "It's now kind of a place you can come in and have a meal with your family rather than defend your family," said Ray Runnels, Gerry's 27-year old nephew.
Since Benson listed the town with Montgomery last Sunday, she has been fielding phone calls from interested investors. "I had 11 phone calls in the middle of the night, and my phone has not stopped ringing," Montgomery told the Los Angeles Times. "I expected some interest but I didn't think the news was going to spread as fast or as viral as it has."
Montgomery placed an ad in the Journal, but the listing has since spread far and wide. She has received calls from California, Texas, New Jersey and New York, she said.
"I've even had one call from a production company out of Russia," Montgomery told Reuters. "They want to make a movie. I don't know how legitimate all these calls are."
The town has scenic vistas of the South Dakota prairie, and Bennett County is surrounded by Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to the north and west, Rosebud Indian Reservation to the east and the Nebraska border to the south. Swett is a popular place for pheasant hunting, according to the listing.
Along with the three-bedroom, one-bathroom house and the town buildings, Benson is including a 1990 Volvo semi that is currently used to haul the three trailer homes. The workshop is a 40 foot by 80 foot garage that was previously used as a tire shop.
Benson doesn’t know how popular his listing is, Montgomery told the Times. She hasn’t been able to reach him in the ten days the town has been on the market.
"He has no idea," she said. "I called him 7 or 8 times [Sunday]."