Got a spare $400,000? Buy your own town: Swett, South Dakota

2014-06-29T06:30:00Z 2014-06-30T15:47:08Z Got a spare $400,000? Buy your own town: Swett, South DakotaDaniel Simmons-Ritchie Journal staff Rapid City Journal

Have you ever dreamed of owning your own town, or just taking a ride around town knowing all you see is really yours?

This month, if you’ve got a spare $400,000 lying around, that dream could be a reality.

Lance Benson, the sole owner of Swett, an unincorporated hamlet in Bennett County about two hours southeast of Rapid City, is putting the whole town up for grabs: including its bar, workshop, three trailers, single house, and 6.16 acres of prime prairie real estate.

Benson, the owner of a travelling concession business, said that while he would love to keep the town, he wanted to focus on his core business.

"Like I say, I hate to get rid of it," said Benson, who listed his town for sale with Rapid City Coldwell Banker, LKH Real Estate agent Stacie Montgomery last week. "If I don't sell it, if I don't sell it this first year, I would probably keep it." 

Like many rural towns in America, Swett has shrunk dramatically over the past century as its inhabitants migrated to urban centers. Once a town of about 40 people in the 1940s — with a post office, a few houses, and a grocery store — the town now stands as little more than a few ramshackle buildings along U.S. Highway 18.

Ownership of property in the town concentrated during that decline, eventually falling to a single person. The town changed hands a few times before Benson bought it in 1998. He signed it over to his ex-wife in a divorce, but reclaimed the town around 2012.

Today, with Benson and his new wife living in a house beside the Swett Tavern, the town's population officially stands at two.

"And Daisy, that makes three," joked Wayne Witt, a friend of Benson's, referring to the couple's rottweiler mix.

But although the town's fortunes have waned, its tavern has remained its beating heart. As the only watering hole in a 2-mile radius, the Swett Tavern is still the defacto gathering place for a small army of local cowboys and wheatgrowers.

On Thursday, the beer was flowing and the pool cues were well-chalked as a family of horse-trainers from Batesland sought refuge from the afternoon heat.

"This place is pretty much where the highway ends and the Wild West begins," joked 47-year old Gerry Runnels, his fingers wrapped around a cold bottle of Budweiser.

Runnels is a third generation patron at the Swett Tavern. It was at this bar that his grandfather drank, where his father would wile away the hours playing Keno, and where, at age seven, barely able to see over the table's edge, Runnels learned to play pool.

Although Runnels has watched ownership of the town change over the years, its bar has always maintained a distinctly local veneer; a place where cowboy hats are de rigueur and rusted wagon wheels adorn the front facade.

It's a legacy that also, at times, has included a reputation for attracting rough customers. Runnels still remembers the words of an Oklahoman, traveling through the area, who stopped by for a drink.

"He said you need a Bowie knife to get in this place and a chainsaw to get out," Runnels said with a laugh.

Fortunately, under Benson's ownership,the Swett Tavern has cleaned up its image in recent years.

"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, who sat at the bar with a tequila sunrise.

Although the atmosphere might be friendlier in the bar, whether the town sells or doesn't sell, at least these locals hope it doesn't lose its Western charm.

Gerry Runnels, downing the last drops of his Budwesier, still laughs at the memory of another man, a refined friend from Seattle, who he first introduced to the Swett Tavern.

"He said, 'this looks like a good place to be killed'. And I said, 'you could be killed anywhere, Randy. You could get killed at home feeding your furless cats, at least here it will be exciting'."

[Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect a correction, Boondocks Bar & Grill in Martin is located two miles from Swett.]

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(11) Comments

  1. MikeLS
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    MikeLS - July 07, 2014 7:59 pm
    Memories--went to college in Rapid City and my room mate had gone to grade school in Swett, when visiting his family in the area visited the town. Must admit $400,000 is considerably more than I would offer--even knowing stories about grade school children watching patrons of the bar who had "fallen asleep" outside the bar the night before awakening during the students' morning recess back in those days.
  2. Roger Cornelius
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    Roger Cornelius - June 30, 2014 1:24 pm
    Does the Swett bar only sell 3.2 beer?
  3. jswallace
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    jswallace - June 30, 2014 11:46 am
    I would buy it, sell my house and move there and run the bar. But I wouldn't give him anything over 100,000
  4. griz326
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    griz326 - June 30, 2014 9:06 am
    I see we have armchair real estate appraisers :)

    The man has 6 acres @ $3k; a land value of $18k.
    He also has: a house, a workshop, and a bar. The pictures are inadequate to have a knowledgeable guesstimate, but let's give him $50k site unseen.

    So there's about $70k in real property if you give a few bucks for the trailers.

    So he's selling the liquor license for $330k...although the article does not say that explicitly.
    $330k is high where I live.
    How much does the bar gross and net each year?

    I'm intrigued, but the wife is out of the country and we make these sorts of decisions together.
  5. Buck
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    Buck - June 30, 2014 6:10 am
    6 acres for $3000? I don't think so. Even in South Dakota.
  6. vaquero
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    vaquero - June 29, 2014 9:22 pm
    As a student there in the Great State of South Dakota in the 80's, I still dream and wonder why I left, although the winters can and are very Harsh! I would be willing to relocate part of my business there, believe in the revitalization of Swett and its hardworking folks. No one has ever drowned in their own SWETT! My offer is NO where the asking price..., 915-740-2457 Richard. Dale you've definitely done your home work, steelpalace...the last thing Sweet needs is a someone asking for a free ride...
  7. RogerWard
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    RogerWard - June 29, 2014 7:53 pm
    What are the tax's on the 6 A's ? What do Lic's cost to operate a bus. in the town? Was the town Inc. in the past? Who has the abstract for the 6A's. I would buy it for $ 1.00 if the seller pays all of the closing cost.
  8. motherofpearl
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    motherofpearl - June 29, 2014 7:40 pm
    I sure would love to buy it too! I love South Dakota. I would need land contract also, though.
  9. motherofpearl
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    motherofpearl - June 29, 2014 7:36 pm
    thanks for the info dsine!
  10. dsine
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    dsine - June 29, 2014 5:19 pm
    6 acres in South Dakota is worth about $3,000. Add a house and a bar, maybe $10,000. That is the top end. I offer $9,000. That is probably way over priced, but I love South Dakota, so I would be willing to pay above market value. If someone pays anywhere close to $400,000, they have no idea of the market value of land in South Dakota. If the owner is interested in a fair deal, call me at (803) 517-9896. Dale Sine
  11. steelpalace
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    steelpalace - June 29, 2014 5:01 pm
    If he will sell it on a land contract with very little to nothing down I would buy it today and move from Florida.
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