By Roy Bragg, Express-News columnist
Updated 11:08 a.m., Saturday, July 21, 2012
BANKERSMITH — It was worldwide news when an Austin entrepreneur bought this abandoned ghost town in Kendall County from a Craigslist ad, with plans to rename it Bikinis, TX after his chain of bars. His plans: Create a Luckenbach-like weekend destination for bikers and his best bar patrons.
Sadly, not much of Bikinis’ Tuesday news release was true.
Bikinis Sports Bar and Grill CEO Doug Guller didn’t buy Bankersmith, but rather a piece of land nearby. Tax records show the actual town site is owned by Rudy Klinkseik, an adjacent landowner. And it’s actually in Gillespie County.
And what he bought was not an abandoned ghost town. Caretaker Maggie Montgomery lived there for 15 years, holding fundraising concerts for local groups that sometimes featured her son, acclaimed singer-songwriter Monte Montgomery. She put a “Banker Smith, TX” sign on her home.
And Guller may not have found it on Craigslist. A source told me that placing the ad, for the purposes of storytelling and branding, was part of the final settlement of a lawsuit over the land transaction. When I told Guller what I’d discovered, he laughed: “For the record, I found it on Craigslist.”
Before going any further, let’s take a step back. I realize this isn’t Watergate. It’s not the Whitewater scandal. It’s not even a rigged Internet poll. And Guller isn’t the first guy to embellish a story to make it sound better. Lots of us do it. Some of us (ahem) do it for a living. Basically, we have the owner of a successful chain of “breastaurants” who wanted to drum up publicity for his big move.
Lots of businesses embellish. There is no McDonaldsland and there is no Hamburglar. Pastry maker Sara Lee isn’t an old woman, but instead a large food manufacturing company. Most Sam Adams beer isn’t brewed in a quaint Boston brewery, but at breweries all over the country. Of course, that’s advertising copy and not a news release.
In the world of marketing, you see, the idea is to create an image that people will want. Luckenbach’s mystique was created by the music of Jerry Jeff Walker, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and other scions of the 1970s “outlaw country” movement. Guller wanted to latch onto that when he bought land 10 miles southwest of Luckenbach.
Bankersmith, named after Fredericksburg banker Terrell Smith, was founded as a railroad town in 1913. When the tracks were abandoned in 1935, so was the town. All that was left was the general store where Mrs. Montgomery lived.
She says Guller came to one of her son’s concerts last year, fell in love with the place and offered to buy it from owner Jarrett Borchers, a Fredericksburg contractor, who was also there. That $75,000 transaction soured almost immediately, prompting a lawsuit in state district court. The case was closed with a June 7 settlement.
Details weren’t disclosed, but sometime between June 19 and Tuesday’s news release, the town was put up for sale on Craigslist. Three sources familiar with the situation — two being Mrs. Montgomery and daughter Meredith Guyton — say the ad wasn’t real. Mrs. Montgomery quotes Borchers as saying, “That’s the story we’re going to tell them.”
Guller’s new neighbors say they were blindsided by the deal. “How can anyone decide to put something like that out there without any regard to the impact on the community?” asked David Gasmire, who lives nearby. “When someone tries to do something that will directly affect the community and commercialize for their own purposes without telling them, ”Rudy Klinksiek says, “it rubs people the wrong way.”
Neighbors are concerned about traffic on the narrow two-lane road. Guller told me he understands the concerns. Aware of the traffic and parking problems his venue might bring, Guller approached Klinksiek about buying land for parking. But, “My granddaddy and my daddy and myself and my boy have spent our lives taking care of it,” Klinksiek said. “It’s my inheritance and I plan on passing it on to my family intact.”
Guller says Bikinis, TX will do its best to fit in. “We are a good neighbor to every other business in every other place we operate,’ he said. Bikinis, TX will host only one large event, specifically National Bikini Day in July. Beyond that, there will a handful of smaller events — for high-ranking members in Bikinis’ customer loyalty plan or corporate big shots — that won’t be much louder than one of Montgomery’s concerts. Neighbors, says Klinksiek, didn’t like Montgomery’s events either.
Residents are now plotting their strategy, which could include a buyout offer or asking county officials for help. Guller, meanwhile, is still excited about his plans. “I wanted a place we could put Bikinis literally on the map and just have a fun destination for our company, for our brand and for our customers and friends.”