After just one day in Bozeman, Montana, I was compiling a listof all the reasons my family and I had to move here right away:
1. The revolving horse above the awning of the Main StreetArmy Navy store.
2. Views of the denim blue Gallatin Range running south toYellowstone National Park.
3. Air that's invigorating because it is kept fresh-frozenall winter.
4. Fly-fishing shops. One, the Bozeman Angler, is owned byRod King. I've never fly-fished, but when I do, I want to buy gearfrom Rod King.
5. The revolving horse above the awning of the Main StreetArmy Navy store.
What makes a town suddenly hot? Whatever it is, Bozeman has it."Bozeman was just a little Montana ranch town," said myfather―who years ago traveled here regularly onbusiness―when I told him I was going to visit. Now Bozeman(pop. 30,000) and all of surrounding Gallatin County (pop. 75,000)are booming. On the edge of town, you see the new houses andshopping centers rising. Slick real estate magazines feature $1.25million 6,510-square-foot homes with media rooms and wet bars. Inthe United States, people measure a locale's cachet by theautomobile names it inspires. When '60s California surf culturecrested, you had the Chevy Malibu. Later came the Dodge Durango,the Hyundai Santa Fe. The Chrysler Bozeman? It may happen.
You see the changing Bozeman easily enough on any walk down MainStreet, where the redbrick buildings seem solid enough to supportboth tradition and change. There's the Army Navy store and125-year-old Owenhouse Hardware. There's the old Baxter Hotel withits blue light that flashes whenever there's fresh snow at thecity-owned ski resort, Bridger Bowl. But there are also new artgalleries and boutiques, and Plonk, a wine bar whose varietals andIn-Styled customers appear to have been airlifted from SantaMonica.
"We looked at Colorado and Idaho," says Kathryn Borgenicht, aphysician who moved here with her family five years ago from SanFrancisco. "We wanted fishing, mountains, good bookstores. We droveinto Bozeman and said, 'This is it.' We just knew."
Naturally, such acclaim has stirred unease among longtimeBozeman residents. "What happens when you become popular and you'renot prepared for it?" asks city commissioner Steve Kirchhoff, aBozeman native.
Some residents look to Aspen, Colorado, and Jackson Hole,Wyoming, to see what they don't want to be: trophy towns dividedbetween haves and have-nots. Some of them like to point out reasonspeople shouldn't move here. The relative lack of high-paying jobs.The five-month-long winters, which usually start at the end ofOctober. ("We learn how to integrate down jackets into the kids'Halloween costumes," says Mike Harrelson, who works in advertisinghere.) Still, the newcomers arrive. Bozeman has a nickname: theBozone. "We're just in our own little bubble in the Bozone," oneresident tells me. Now some fear it will gain a new one: BozeAngeles.
Kirchhoff thinks his town can pull it off. Bozeman, he hopes,can grow in a way that ensures a diverse economy, affordablehousing, and an unspoiled environment. He thinks the town's strongtradition of participatory government―"People argue together here," he tells me over dinner―will seeBozeman through.
Still, he has his worries. "People move to Jackson to have thesecond home and ski," Kirchhoff says. "People move to Bozeman tolive. That's what I'm afraid we might lose."
I walked back out onto Main Street. There was the Baxter Hoteland the revolving horse. The shiny new and the stable old. TheMontana mountains and sky. Every once in a while, by accident andby design, we in the West create a community and actually get itright: a place almost everybody would want to live.
INFO: Bozeman Area Chamber of Commerce (www.bozemanchamber.com or800/228-4224).