A recent Business Insider article written from the perspective of a wealthy celebrity news and social media personality who moved to Bozeman in 2020 has Montanans feeling like they’re living in the twilight zone. (Yes, even the other transplants, myself included.)
The article, “I left NYC and bought a house in Montana. I had a big job title but a terrible bank account — now I’m happier and my money goes further,” was written by Perri Ormont Blumberg as it was told to her by 42-year-old Shallon Lester. The article sums up Lester’s reasoning for moving to Bozeman from New York City in June 2020—to save money. That’s a popular reason to move anywhere. In fact, it’s the same reason why lots of longtime Montana residents have moved away from Bozeman—to avoid the strain of housing costs that are 62 percent higher than the rest of the country.
But in explaining her decision to Business Insider’s 200 million monthly visitors, which she also did in a nearly-identical article in 2021, Lester also made some less-than-charming statements about the community that she sacrificed big-city luxury to move to. She highlights the lower-quality hair and nail salons, the understaffed businesses, the dating pool full of men who don’t understand or appreciate her type of intelligence, the women these men do desire who “need saving” and “have jobs but not careers.” In the older article, she laments having to “[keep] the bar low for dating… Every guy on Tinder is holding a fish or something else he killed.”
Insults to hunters, anglers, hair stylists, manicurists, the service industry, and essentially every man and woman in the Big Sky State aside, she really emphasizes her biggest point: Living in Montana isn’t cool.
“Trading the big-city cool factor for an easier cost of living was the best decision for me,” the article reads. “Feeling cool isn’t as important as feeling rich.”
There are countless problematic components to both of Lester’s articles. Like all the parts where she calls Bozeman slow in a way that reads as equal parts endearing and infantilizing. Or the part where she solves the problem of her “terrible” bank account when her “family’s trust bought a $1 million” home in cash. (Some have questioned her appraisal of the property value, and the original story, which received a correction after this Outdoor Life story was first published, made it sound like she had purchased the home herself.) But the situation turned on its head when Hipsters of Bozeman, a popular Instagram account dedicated to light-hearted humor about the town’s eclectic mix of residents, posted the article to their page.
Suddenly, the hipsters, hunters, mountain bikers, baristas, fly anglers, and good ol’ boys and girls had each others’ backs—maybe to a fault. The post received an onslaught of comments bashing Lester’s every word. So Lester posted a response video, which she filmed while posing in front of a bookshelf of expensive handbags—a reply that was widely derided and added even more fuel to the social media conflagration. (Lester did not immediately reply to a request for comment.)
The owner of the Hipsters of Bozeman account, who remains anonymous, has since disabled comments on the post and deleted multiple stories. The blowback to Shallon’s story and response video—in which she calls the owner of the Hipsters of Bozeman account a “goblin” and an “anonymous, broke, dumpy pigeon”—was swift and harsh.
“If we’re pigeons she’s the statue,” one Reddit user comments.
“This is the archetype of what everyone has been complaining about,” another says. “No one could better personify the issues of cultural transitions around here better than her, she’s perfect.”
“I thought she didn’t need designer clothes etc. because she moved to Montana … but now she is showing off her designer handbags,” a third points out. “Holy fuck this lady is unhinged.”
Shallon has become a lightning rod for criticism because she represents what so many Westerners fear: an invasion of wealthy out-of-towners who are out of touch with local values.
Outdoor Life shooting editor, John B. Snow, who moved to Bozeman in 2010, has seen growing anxiety about and anger toward transplants who have altered the culture of Montana, no matter how good their intentions might be.
“Shallon confirms the worst suspicions that Montanans have toward newcomers,” Snow says. “Her comments and social media demonstrate a paper-thin understanding of life here and what makes Montana special. When she brags about her Mossy Oak hoodie, describes her home in a sprawling subdivision as ‘rural’, and refers to the locals who called her out as ‘pigeons’ and ‘goblins,’ it’s easy to see why she’s been characterized as an inauthentic and corrosive imposter. She has a smug, confidently-incorrect perspective that really struck a nerve.”
At one point in the story Shallon claims to “have a shotgun above her bed and a lasso in her truck bed,” and she makes some socio-political statements that might sound more stereotypically Western than stereotypically Californian. But one statement in particular, from the 2021 piece, especially stood out:
“Prices are through the roof,” she says. “We’re hoping that once life gets back to normal around America, people will stop moving to Montana.”
It’s a sentiment I’ve heard a million times, in bars and at trailheads and in interviews for other articles I’ve written about the wealth influx in the West. It reflects the old adage of “close the door on your way in.” But countless case studies on population growth, housing prices, and urban sprawl prove that no newcomer is really listening. That’s why Lester’s hypocrisy is so infuriating: Her words were read by tens of thousands of people, many of whom have enough money to pay cash for million-dollar Bozeman homes of their own.
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Aug. 18 to include new information about how Lester acquired her home in Bozeman. Business Insider‘s correction to its own story, also published Aug. 18, reads: “An earlier version of this story didn’t disclose the relationship between Shallon Lester and the author Perri Ormont Blumberg. Lester is a friend of the author. It also didn’t make clear how Lester came into the possession of her $1 million home. Lester’s family trust bought the home.”