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Sustaining small businesses in Chase County



Owning a small business in a rural community has its challenges. Kay Lauer, member of the Chase County Chamber of Commerce, says it takes a village to keep Cottonwood Falls businesses afloat and a Chamber of Commerce that believe in the idea of keeping business sustained in small communities.

Broadway Street in Cottonwood Falls comes to life each morning with residents walking to their jobs. Storefronts that resemble Old West buildings line the street, and small chalkboard signs promote daily specials and discounts.

On the corner of Broadway and Pearl, across from the courthouse, Dieker’s Oil, Inc. springs to life as the sounds of drilling echoes between buildings. A mechanic changes the tires of a vehicle in need of an upgrade. A spray of water escapes from the car washing well, and Cody Tastove greets passersby with a welcoming smile and a wave.

Up the street, inside Grand Central Hotel and Grill, Kay Lauer washes wine glasses for the upcoming River Suite celebration, an event that occurs annually the Friday before Symphony in the Flint Hills.

Lauer, a 30-year Chamber of Commerce member, puts in her share of volunteer time within the community. She said she decided to join the Chamber because she owned a business downtown and she wanted to become an active member in the community. As a member of the Chamber, her goal is to help people understand the importance of shopping local.

“For a small community, there’s nothing more important,” Lauer said. “It revolves around everything that goes on in a small community.”

Lauer said shopping in town is important because it helps sustain life within rural Kansas communities. In order for a school bond issue to pass, for example, people have to show support for local businesses. If people are asking for businesses to increase sales tax, then consumers need to support those businesses to help them pay their taxes.

“It gets to be a vicious cycle,” Lauer said. “A community has to have schools, but a community has to have businesses. You have to work together and support each other.”

Lauer smiled when she described the type of people who live in Chase County. It’s a group of hardworking people who open amazing stores, she said. And because of these amazing stores, she said people who come to Chase County know they can expect a peaceful, easy-going visit.

“They can come here and relax,” Lauer said. “They can have a good meal, a fabulous place to stay. It’s just phenomenal here.”

Lauer paused to think about her sister, Jane Koger, who organized Symphony on the Prairie in 1994, an event that would later become Symphony in the Flint Hills.

“A lot of people thought my sister, Jane, was crazy,” Lauer said. “But look what she did to enhance Chase County.”

According to their website, the Chase County Chamber of Commerce has three goals in mind: to increase tourism, to create opportunities for local entrepreneurs to start their own business and to boost pride in the community to retain residents.

Through community events, like River Suite and Country Christmas, an annual event that showcases bed and breakfasts and the lighting of the courthouse, and area attractions like the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve and Ad Astra restaurant in Strong City, Lauer said she thinks the small town charm will help bring people back to the area.

“We’ve had several people who have come and bought land or built homes who used to be tourists, and now they’re residents,” Lauer said.

Lauer said she thinks other small communities in Chase County, like Matfield Green, could flourish into small business-oriented hubs like Cottonwood Falls. But Lauer said there’s only one thing that will make it happen.

“Time,” Lauer said with a brief pause. “The spirit is there.”

— by Sean Jones