Town shopping 

M. John Fayhee checks out the ski resort competition

"What if what you do to survive

Kills the thing you love?"

– Bruce Springsteen, "Devils & Dust"

When Patrick Conlin arrives on time, I’m so badly stunned I almost drop my still-frothing pint of amber ale. For 25 years, I’ve covered the real estate profession for a succession of small-town Western papers, most of them located in places where real estate is king. In all those years, I do not remember a single "real estate professional" ever arriving on time for a meeting.

Conlin, who has graciously been trying to schedule a meeting with me for several days, barely manages to squeeze in an hour between back-to-back-to-back property showings. His phone rings at least five times while we sip our beers and talk about the real estate boom, in which he finds himself bobbing like a cork in a whirlpool. He seems frazzled to the core.

"The real estate market here is unreal," he says, in the same detached-yet-panting tone in which Edward Abbey described Arches in Desert Solitaire . "It’s bigger than us; it has a life of its own. Right now, I am working all the time."

Conlin’s breakneck schedule typifies the lives of those who have answered the higher calling of real estate in hot-market towns like Ketchum, Park City, Jackson, Prescott and the various resort communities of the Colorado high country, where I live. But what is sobering here is that we are in none of those places. Conlin and I are talking in the Silver City Brewing Company in Silver City, New Mexico.

Silver City has always been my relocation fallback point, the town I have long suspected I would flee to when the development craziness of the Colorado high country finally wore me down. I lived here from 1976 to 1982. I hoped, by the time I was ready to go back, that Colorado’s development craziness would have appreciated my home’s value enough so I could afford to sell out and pay cash for a house down here. (And it certainly has appreciated; I must say I appreciate it.)

But in the past couple years, Silver City has started to emulate the place I am getting ready to hightail it from. Along with the brew pub, Silver City now has a wine bar that serves only products from New Mexico. It also has a brand-new martini bar, a handful of impressive java huts, several new bistros, a great farmers’ market, a couple of bookstores and an amazing arts district. Few of these things would be here without the influx of newcomers, who run the stereotypical gamut from retirees to telecommuters to lifestyle-migrants.

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