This bookseller buys a ghost town and discovers a valley of hidden treasure

Let’s look at how he is turning this abandoned piece of land into a thriving business and a bustling town.

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Karthik Vijayakumar
Published on: June 3, 2024

He spends his entire life savings on buying this land. It’s located not too far from civilization. But when he went there, all he could find were abandoned buildings, old whiskey bottles, boots, giant human bones, and this one-hundred-year-old briefcase.

This bookseller buys a ghost town and discovers a valley of hidden treasure
Photo credit: Brent Underwood

Have you ever felt spooky?

You go to this deserted place alone.

But you feel something odd – you aren’t alone.

And then you find this old briefcase.

It contains letters that are well over a hundred years old.

You read these letters and realize they were addressed to three men.

Who are they? What happened to them? How did they die?

Not sure about you, but Brent found himself in this exact situation.

And this place he was standing was once a thriving silver mine.

“But who the hell is Brent?”

Oh yes, I forgot to introduce you to Brent. The hands you see above are his.

Brent Underwood is his name. His day job is that of a bookseller. To be precise, he helps non-fiction authors market their books.

Brent earned his business chops a few years ago when he started a hostel in Brooklyn. But he was a marketer at heart – every time he started a business, he wore his marketing hat.

It was no different this time around.

In 2019, he heard about this abandoned mining town. Cerro Gordo, its name.

His business and marketing brains were lit. Before too long, he decided to bid. And he even convinces a couple of others to join him. As it happens in bidding, someone always wins the bid – in this auction, it was Brent.

Going once, going twice, sold.

Brent Underwood was now the owner of a ghost town!

And he paid over $1.4M for it.

“Hold on, he bought it? But why?”

He definitely had his reasons. But I was super curious – so I kept looking for the answer.

And then I found him talking about Cerro Gordo on this podcast.

He was not just talking – he told us exactly what he was doing with this place. You know what? He’s working to infuse life back into this zombie town. And he wants to turn it into a bustling business.

You can listen to it. But if you’re curious, here are seven highlights from Brent’s interview with Andrew Warner on the Mixergy podcast. You’re going to dig this one!

Read carefully, and you’ll discover how Brent is using his interests and skills as a cocktail to transform an abandoned ghost town into a thriving business.

The American West for Tourists

I’m not sure about you. But I grew up watching movies about the American West – McKenna’s Gold and A Fistful of Dollars were my fav!

The idea of the American West isn’t just a hit with movies. People around the world love it for other reasons too. The idea has inspired authors to write books, entrepreneurs to build restaurants, and theme parks to create rides.

How about an entire city?

Brent says he has always loved history. He says he always fancied combining his love for the American West with his experience with marketing. As a seller of books, he took a special interest in storytelling. And he saw all of this come together with Cerro Gordo.

“I’m looking at the window right now and I’m looking at a hotel that we’re putting the plumbing in at the moment. And we hope to welcome up our first guest this year. I think that the road to there has been very bumpy, from the very beginning, like you said, the idea was overnight visitors. So we’d throw up some cabins, we’d have some campsites, people would come, enjoy the day. It’s a very unique place. the history here is what I think got all of us excited about it, back to your why, like why do people get involved?”

Low competition

Build a moat, they say when it comes to building businesses.

“Differentiation is key. Make it difficult for others to copy your business.”

And Brent has got this right – it’s not easy for someone to do what Brent has set out to do. Watch Brent’s YouTube channel to see what living in a ghost town feels like – it’s not everyone’s cuppa tea. And even if it is, other factors like access, availability, and affordability come to play.

Ghost towns are a niche market.

It takes a lot of effort, time, money, and other resources to rebuild one. Plus, you need time to get the word out, attract tourism, and generate cash flow. A moat will offer you that time before someone else decides to re-develop another ghost town.

In the interview, Brent doesn’t explicitly state “low competition.” However, he alludes to the uniqueness and pioneering aspect of his project. He uses words to suggest a competitive advantage due to the rarity of such ventures.

“The idea of building something real, something that you could go, you could touch. It had a longevity to it. This is a project that obviously has been here for 150 years already and hopefully will be here for another 150 years. That was the allure of it. The romanticism of the American West is not lost. I don’t think on many people, Westerns, everything like that, the American West holds this within your heart.”

Document the journey

Have you heard of the idea of “building in public”?

Well, Brent adopted this very idea into his Cerro Gordo plan.

Tell me something…

When was the last time you saw someone build a town from scratch?

Did I hear you say “never”?

You’re not alone. Most of us haven’t.

If you lived in the 1950s, maybe you’ve seen the construction of the famous Disneyland.

Even then, you likely couldn’t have had the chance to see it “being constructed.” Right?

Well, that’s now possible with Cerro Gordo. Brent is documenting his journey on his YouTube channel.

And you know what?

A lot of people are watching it – 1.69 million people, at the time of this writing.

With over 104 million video view, here’s what this means to Brent:

Money.

The channel is rapidly gaining thousands of subscribers each day. Brent has a media business along the sidelines of rebuilding Cerro Gordo.

Did I mention he’s got another 3.1 million following his journey on TikTok too?

This is marketing on steroids!

“There’s about 2 million people that follow on YouTube. There’s over 3 million people that watch on TikTok and total views is probably like 500 million views. I would say a quarter of which are unique. So a few hundred million people have seen this property in one way or the other, which is just mind blowing to me. The financials are best on YouTube. Let’s say a brand integration. If this week is sponsored or that, that’s what pays a lot of the bills.”

Learn something new. Use something you know.

Brent recalls the words of Robert Greene about mastery:

“The future belongs to those who learn more skills and combine them in creative ways.”

How profound!

Real estate is not new to Brent.

“My degrees were in real estate and finance. I went to undergraduate, got a finance degree, and a master’s degree in real estate development. I thought that was going to be my thing, for the longest time,” he says.

But he quit his first job at an investment bank in just a month – he hated it. “It was miserable,” he admits. But never got a chance to work in real estate.

And so Brent saw Cerro Gordo as an opportunity. He decided to put the theoretical knowledge he gained from his master’s degree into practice. But he did that by combining his real estate knowledge with his experience in marketing and his love for storytelling.

The project allowed him to use his storytelling skills to market the town and create a compelling narrative for visitors.

Longevity and Legacy

Let’s look at businesses and lifespans for a moment.

The average lifespan of a company on the S&P 500 Index was just over 21 years in 2020. It was 32 years in 1965.

Hold on to your breath – it was 67 years in the 1920s!

You know what will happen by 2027?

75% of the companies on the S&P 500 will have disappeared.

Harsh but true. And that’s why I liked what Brent is doing with Cerro Gordo.

By investing in a physical and historical asset, he’s diversified from his other digital marketing ventures. But it’s also provided him an opportunity to build a lasting legacy.

Unlike other ventures, this one is more tangible.

And what he does at Cerro Gordo could continue to grow and serve as a creative and historical project well into the future. Here’s how Brent puts it:

“The idea of building something real, something that you could go, you could touch. It had a longevity to it. This is a project that obviously has been here for 150 years already and hopefully will be here for another 150 years. That was the allure of it.”

What’s your ghost town project?

I find Brent Underwood’s Cerro Gordo project very intriguing and interesting for the reasons I mentioned above. And I guess the one thing that stands out is how he’s combining his skills to create a business from ruins. So here’s my question to you:

What’s your Cerro Gordo?

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About the author 

Karthik Vijayakumar

Hey, it's me, Karthik. I'm a copywriter and a ghostwriter, too. This blog contains exciting things I gleaned from books, podcasts, and personal experiences. But it's also more—a showcase of my work as a ghostwriter. For instance, you can see the difference in writing styles—this post differs from this one. I help CEOs, founders, and C-Suite executives write content to build authority and trust and grow an engaged audience.

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