The bygone charm of Rapid City, S.D., is easy to see, even when its most famous attraction isn’t.My head is cold, which is not a surprise, as I keep it shaved and am standing in a snowstorm in Rapid City, S.D. Though the city gets warm — downright hot, even — in the summer months, it still collects an average of six inches of snow each April, which is when I make my triumphant arrival. I’ve been in town exactly five minutes, and already several centimeters of powder have accumulated on my bare scalp.
If You Go:
Mount Rushmore National Memorial
13000 Highway 244, Keystone
Hotel Alex Johnson
523 Sixth St.
Michael’s Men’s Wear
617 Saint Joseph St.
Saloon No. 10
657 Main St., Deadwood
Seattle’s Best Coffee
2130 N. Haines Ave.
Tally’s Silver Spoon
530 Sixth St.
Main Street Square
Corner of Sixth and Main streets
Storyteller Comics & Games
520 Sixth St.
609 Main St.
Firehouse Brewing Company
610 Main St.
523 Sixth St.
I need a hat because, being in Rapid City, I will of course be making a visit to Mount Rushmore. For those who’ve never been, Mount Rushmore is very much outside. In the mountains, in fact. Small ones — hills, really — but still. Said mountains/hills/sloping geographical elements are, at the moment, covered in snow. American Way will be seeing hat on my expense report.
So I set out on a trek through downtown in search of appropriate headgear. If downtown Rapid City, set against the eastern slope of the Black Hills, is the heart of the region, it operates on a great whale–like seven beats per minute. Many of its buildings date to the late 1800s, which is when the promise of gold gave rise to the town. You can stroll around its boutiques and barbershops and cafés in an afternoon. I often feel as though turning on something modern, like my iPhone, would cause some sort of disruption in the space-time continuum.
This being a true small-town American city, I know there will be a proper menswear store nearby, and, lo, around the corner from the historic Hotel Alex Johnson, is Michael’s Men’s Wear. Owner Mike Konvalin, wearing a suit and a smile, fits me with a gray wool flat cap. Mike has been operating Michael’s Men’s Wear for more than a quarter century. He knows the new owners of the Alex Johnson, where numerous presidents have stayed, and the owners before that and the owners before that — each of whom has refurbished the hotel before selling. Business is good: Young people want to live downtown again, and the construction along the area’s main streets is for multimillion-dollar mixed-use apartments to accommodate them. There are only 67,000 people, he says, who live in Rapid City, so business owners like him are dependent on tourism for Rushmore and nearby gambling towns, like Deadwood. But that’s why there are now several higher-end bistros serving chef-driven food in town; not only are tourists demanding it, but so are the increasingly sophisticated and younger Rapid City residents.
“You going to Deadwood?” Mike asks. “Lot of new casinos being built. The kids love it up there. It’s a party scene on the weekends.”
“Awesome,” I say, feeling warm in my flat cap.
He points outside. “Oh, probably not tonight, of course.”
“Oh. Well, I’m headed out to Rushmore right now.”
A long, slow smile crawls across Mike’s face, the sort of puckish grin one unleashes when one sees a middle-aged foolish person say something young and foolish.
“Oh, sure.” He looks skyward, into the gray-white blanket. “You might be able to see it, I suppose.”