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Sidney 2.0: Montana’s Sin City

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve seen our photos—my analysis of an oil boomtown. But what’s Sidney really like? Hear about it from the people who live there:

Louisa Barber, Sidney Herald reporter, on moving to Sidney three years ago:

“I thought this was the ugliest place I’d ever seen. When I stepped off the train in Williston (North Dakota), I couldn’t believe it. It was so flat. It was the end of summer, and it was dry and brown – not the green I was used to. But as I’ve been here a little longer, it now has its own kind of beauty.”

Bret Smelser, mayor of Sidney, on oil workers new to town:

“All they want is a better life. We’re trying to do what we can to make everyone feel welcome. But at the end of the day, I hardly have any of the tools in the chest to make that happen.”

Daniel Farr, superintendent of Sidney Public Schools, on projecting the town’s population:

“It’s like taking a trip to Las Vegas and taking your best darn guess at this point because there are no concrete numbers to work with.”

Brandy Sorensen, trailer park resident, on overhearing a grocery store check-out lady cussing out the newcomers:

“It got me so irritated. If none of us were here, your town would probably be just like the rest of America where the economy is down in the dumps. If oil wasn’t here, where would your husband work? What job would you be going to the next town for? You’d be invading someone else’s space to pay your bills. I hope they wouldn’t treat you like that.”

Farr on how he’s coping with an increasing student population and limited funding:

“I will still go down and serve lunch every day, empty trays every day. I shovel snow when we have snow because that’s just the way it is. You do what you have to right now because you don’t have workers.”

Katy DeMangelaere, 25-year-old resident, on nightlife:

“I carry pepper spray in my purse. I’m a trusting, small-town girl, but it scares me. There are people you can’t trust hanging outside the bars all the time. You used to be OK, but going outside them now, you fear for your life.”

Sally Sand, bartender at the Ranger Lounge, on adjusting to life in Sidney after moving there in January:

“My boss walks me to my car every night, and I don’t leave my house after dark. It’s a nightmare. After I got to meet the locals though, everything was good from then on.”

Barber on being a journalist in small-town Montana:

“This has just been a really good place to get experience. I’m grateful to have a job. Montana’s so strange to me – our governor calls our paper. I just called his office to ask if I can get a statement on such and such for a story. And I’m just hoping to get emailed with a statement, but he actually calls me back. I mean, does that happen anywhere else?”

Libby Berndt, Sidney Herald publisher, on employment:

“Here we are in an area that has a low unemployment rate – we have jobs. We are blessed to have that and be able to share it with people who don’t have work … I mean, we’re all American citizens, and we have to take care of each other.”