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Sale of Swett, South Dakota, stirs whirlwind of international media interest

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Wayne Witt, a volunteer manager at the Swett Tavern, walks along the single gravel road in Swett as he tours the property. The town in southwestern South Dakota is for sale and drawing interest from around the world.

Swett, a pint-sized town in southwestern South Dakota, seems like an unlikely target for national and international media attention.

But since the Journal first reported on Sunday that Swett's sole owner, Lance Benson, is selling the town for $399,000, the news has gone viral online, spurring stories by the LA Times to the Australian Broadcasting Company, attracting calls from TV studios interested in creating a reality TV show based in the town, and inciting purchase-offers from as far away as Pakistan and Italy.

"I'm just surprised, " Benson said Tuesday evening, still dumbstruck by the response. "It's amazing."

The ensuing media storm has built over the past three days largely without Benson's knowledge. Benson, an Oglala Sioux Tribal member, owns a concessions business that travels to powwows in remote parts of Indian Country during the summer. Since the story broke, Benson has been in Fort Washakie, Wyo., out of cell service and unaware that a slew of national and international media outlets have been trying to reach him.

Stacie Montgomery, the Rapid City-based broker for the sale, said Tuesday her phone has been ringing off the hook since the story's publication and that she was struggling to respond to a constant stream of calls and emails from across the world.

"I'm so behind," she said. "I feel so horrible right now because I can't talk with everybody."

Montgomery said the headquarters of her real estate firm, Coldwell Banker, told her on Monday that they believed Swett was the most visible sales listing in the world. The story was one of the most read on the websites of Time Magazine, MSN, Yahoo, Reddit and other major websites.

Montgomery said she had talked with reporters from Fox News to NPR and did a radio interview on Monday with the Australian Broadcasting Company based in Sydney, Australia.

"I have had two people calling wanting to do reality TV shows," she said.

One of those people, Eliot Rahal, a creative developer for NorthSouth Productions, told the Journal on Tuesday that he saw potential for a non-scripted show based in Swett.

"We saw the story and what we often look for is really interesting worlds or characters," he said. "And a guy who owns his own town falls under that."

NorthSouth Productions, based in Knoxville, Tenn., New York, and Atlanta, is best known for the shows Impractical Jokers on truTV and Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta on TLC.

Rahal stressed that his inquiries didn't necessarily mean that a show would develop, but he was interested in learning more about the town from its owner and gauging his own interest in such a venture.

"This is the first step in a many-step process," he said.

On Tuesday evening, Benson said he was interested in hearing more details about a potential reality TV show, but at the same time he was still highly interested in selling the town.

"I think that's a great idea, but it's probably going to sell, you know," he said. "I would like to get my $399,000 so I can get back what I put into it."

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