Buford: Come for the Coffee, Stay ... To Keep The Tiny Town Open
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Along a snowy highway in the Rockies, there is a tiny American town in danger of losing its last resident. NPR's Kirk Siegler sent this postcard from Buford, Wyo., elevation 8,000 feet, population 1.
KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: This is really a story about three people. The first is Jason Hirsch, Buford's town manager. He's manning the Buford Trading Post, which is also the gas station, the store and, well, town hall basically.
JASON HIRSCH: The politics are pretty easy around here. Sometimes, you know, you have arguments with yourself.
SIEGLER: Now, Hirsch isn't the population one - more on that in a minute.
HIRSCH: I live about three miles south of here, so I like to say I live in the suburbs of Buford.
SIEGLER: He just leases this tiny, little enclave with its very own zip code. The owner - stay with me - is actually a Vietnamese investor named Pham Dinh Nguyen. He's the second character in this story.
HIRSCH: Yeah, yeah. He bought the place for the sole purpose of promoting his coffee.
SIEGLER: Nguyen made international news when he bought Buford a few years ago in an online auction.
HIRSCH: If you look at the mural, it tells the story of the coffee...
SIEGLER: It's the only store in America where you can buy his PhinDeli Coffee.
HIRSCH: He wears a cowboy hat around town in Vietnam, and people call him the mayor. He's very famous for owning the smallest town in America.
SIEGLER: Walk past the usual Wyoming convenience store staples - the jerky, the chips, the Coors Light - and there are bags and bags of Vietnamese specialty coffee.
HIRSCH: We have what's called Giot Dang. That's their gourmet coffee.
SIEGLER: It's strong - a hit with the truckers. But there aren't enough customers to last through the long, slow winter. Hirsch's trying to work out a deal with the owner to stay open until summer, but it's week by week.
HIRSCH: I grew up born and raised on this mountain, so it's in my blood. I love Buford. And if there's anything I can do to keep it open, I would love to do it. It's part of me.
SIEGLER: If the Trading Post shuts down, so does the town. In its heyday, Buford, an old railroad town, had a couple thousand residents.
BRANDON HOOVER: It's been around since 1886, right? I mean, why end it now?
SIEGLER: Brandon Hoover is the one in population one, Buford. He's the third character in the story. He just took a job running the place and living here full time.
HOOVER: Solitude is my attitude.
SIEGLER: Outside in the biting wind, Hoover gives the full tour of the sprawling metropolis.
HOOVER: We got the highway right next to us about 30 feet that way. There is the office back here.
SIEGLER: For Hoover, it was a no-brainer quitting his job at the Candlewood Suites in Cheyenne, 30 miles down the mountain from here.
HOOVER: I was looking for just a way to get out of the rigmarole, get out of the rat race and just be able to regain my whole sense of perspective and sense of what this land will give you.
SIEGLER: Today, though, his mind is on his chores.
HOOVER: Let's see if we can find - Sug. Sug, where you at?
SIEGLER: Buford's population is technically two.
There he is. He's like, I'm not coming out.
HOOVER: Come here.
SIEGLER: The town comes with a horse, Sugar. And it's his dinnertime. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Buford, Wyo.
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