Mike Martin remembers the slam of the screen door, the magazine rack, the elephant-ear spigots at the ice cream fountain. He remembers Mullan’s Harwood Drugstore as it was 30 years ago.
Today, the boy who spent summers at his grandmother’s home in Mullan owns a Seattle real estate company. It manages 8,000 rental units, he said, and 10 million square feet of commercial property. His weekly radio talk show is broadcast on 189 stations.
This fall, Martin bought Mullan’s long-vacant Harwood Drugstore, cleared out the dust and debris, and began restoring the upstairs apartment for a part-time home.
“If the memories have a center, that’s it,” he said. “People let these masterpiece buildings, these works of art, fall into decay.”
Over the years, Martin returned to Mullan from time to time to stay at the family home and ski, fish and hike. Locals knew his family and remembered him.
“The people are all so genuine and so nice,” he said. “When you drive by in your automobile, people wave at you. It’s bizarre, and I love it.”
Martin, who makes part of his living predicting real estate markets, predicts a surge of suburbanites heading for places like Mullan, not just to visit, but to stay.
Factors as diverse as the recent GOP landslide, the expansion of the Internet and rising crime, he predicts, will trigger movement comparable to the middle-class exodus from cities in the late 1970s and 1980s.
“I think it’s going to be across the board: families, single people and especially older people,” he said.
If the Republicans make good on promised cuts in federal spending, Martin feels urban infrastructure will decay as crime and racial tension go up - and ripple into the suburbs.
“I suspect the cities are going to be left to fight it out on their own, and they won’t be able to do it,” he said. “Heretofore semi-safe cities are going to be untenable. Nobody’s going to want to live there.”
Despite what locals feel are skyrocketing housing prices and rapid growth, Martin says that Coeur d’Alene and the Silver Valley are still largely undiscovered.
“Unfortunately, this will be the next Sun Valley,” he predicts, citing affordable real estate, nearby Interstate 90 and natural beauty. The best bet for Silver Valley development, he feels, is for the towns to capitalize on their colorful mining history. He’s puzzled by Kellogg’s efforts to retool its downtown core.
“They are a mining town trying to convert themselves into a Bavarian village,” he said. “It’s like trying to turn themselves from a cow into a pig.”
He said he’ll use his Mullan home as a getaway, flying from Seattle to Spokane every other weekend and driving over. Long gone is the town dump where his uncle would take him to see bears, but the fishing, hiking and skiing are still good.
He hopes to turn the storefront into a bakery or deli; he also bought a downtown cafe and four empty lots.
But he said he’ll never mention Mullan on the radio show, for fear of attracting speculators. He wants his daughter, 9, and his son, 11, to experience the 821-person town as he saw it decades ago.
“I don’t want condos built in Mullan,” he said.
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