By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University
“A few years ago, there were eight or nine empty buildings along our main street. Now, it’s hard to even find an open office space downtown.”
That quote comes from a businesswoman who has observed the resurgence of businesses in her community of Council Grove. This downtown, independent business renaissance has been led by women.
Last week we met Jennifer Kassebaum, who recently opened a bookstore in Council Grove. Her business is one of many new enterprises downtown. Julie Hower, president and CEO of Farmers & Drovers Bank in Council Grove, recently convened a group of downtown business owners. They met in the office of Zoey Bond, executive director of the Council Grove Area Trade and Tourism Association, and shared about their businesses.
Lindsey Forge is the owner of Weathered Wood Home, a vintage home décor furnishing business.
As a mother of four, she was a stay-at-home mom for eight years who found she enjoyed woodworking and building furniture. “This became a hobby that got out of control,” Lindsey said with a smile.
She started using reclaimed barn wood to make picture frames and expanded to offer candles and many other types of home décor products. In addition to her online business, she opened a downtown boutique in Council Grove in 2016. See www.weatheredwoodhome.com.
In 2020, Nicky Tiffany opened The Territory Ballroom, a coworking, lodging, and event space in a historic building downtown.
In addition to available short-term offices, it has open space that is designed for weddings and other events plus a sumptuous bridal suite. See www.theterritoryballroom.com.
Lindsay Gant and Deidre Knight, their husbands and a friend are partners at Riverbank Brewing, a new brewery in the converted armory building in downtown Council Grove.
It is located next to the Neosho River, with craft beers on tap and indoor and outdoor venues to enjoy them. The facility is also available to be rented for special events.
On-tap craft beers include Thrill Hills Kolsch, Rio Salado Mexican lager, Legends Never Die chocolate porter, and one called The IPA With No Name. Craft cocktails, charcuterie boards and more are on the menu. See www.riverbankbrewing.com.
In that same building, Deidre operates an online screenprinting and embroidery business called Twin Lakes Tees, plus a social media and marketing business called Story Media.
A few blocks west along Main Street is a building with a garage door on the front. It looks like it could have been an auto dealership years ago. That is now the home of a business called The Dealership Building, owned by Amanda McDonald and her husband.
It is a multi-use space with a retail store featuring antiques and other specialty products such as soaps, candles, and candy on consignment. The Dealership also offers a micro-shop space and incubator kitchen for other entrepreneurs. See www.thedealershipcg.com.
All this is in addition to Dee Gieswein’s Farmers Insurance agency and Shirley and Ken McClintock’s Trail Days Café and Museum that have been the topics of past Kansas Profiles features.
“When I started, I was the only woman in our business district,” Gieswein said.
Bond added: “In addition to these women, we have another six, women-owned businesses.”
What is causing these women to open these new businesses in Council Grove?
- “I love my community,” Gieswein said, adding, “Without Julie (Hower and her community bank), this would not have been here.”
- “It’s for my kids,” Nicky Tiffany said.
- “We moved here ten years ago, and my husband and I are choosing to be here,” Lindsay Forge said.
- “I’m so thankful that the community is so supportive,” Amanda McDonald said.
How exciting to find these entrepreneurial women leading a resurgence of business in the rural community of Council Grove, population 2,140 people. Now, that’s rural.
For more information about the community, go to www.councilgrove.com.
From closed buildings downtown to a vibrant set of new businesses, Council Grove has experienced this downtown renaissance. We commend these women ruralpreneurs for making a difference with their initiative and investment.
Thanks to their efforts, this downtown is experiencing an upturn.
Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.