Success builds success: Dave Mueller and the community of Tampa, KS, strive to rejuvenate and revive their town.

13 Jun 2023

Tampa is a historic community. It was a frequent stop for wagon trains traveling along the Santa Fe Trail.

Over time, Tampa experienced the typical struggles of smaller rural Kansas communities, such as declining population and outmigration. By the late 2000s, most of the businesses in downtown Tampa had closed.

But over the past fifteen years, Tampa has seen positive demographic changes. Unlike most of rural Kansas, the average age in Tampa is moving younger, not older.

Dave Mueller has played a leading role in the resurgence of the town of Tampa in Marion County.

Dave grew up on a farm near Tampa. After attending K-State, he worked for a national feed company before coming back to join his father on the farm. He raises crops and runs a cow-calf operation on the family farm today.

One day he purchased the café building, which led to more purchases and renovations which led to other businesses.

Dave, your remarkable community is seeing an influx of young couples and youth?

Dave Mueller: Yes. To our great happiness, it is really so. Though fifteen years ago, there was hardly a kid in town. Now the town is over-run with kids.

Now we have young people moving in and renovating homes. Having young families attracts even more young families.

How has this happened that Tampa began to rejuvenate? Perhaps it started with community investment? Why did you decide to buy the café building?

Mueller: You see, my aunt and uncle, Butch and Phyllis, had operated Butch’s Café in Tampa since 1980. By 2009, Butch had passed and Phyllis was wanting to retire. I bought the building so that the café could continue to operate.

Next door to the café was an abandoned building. I approached that building’s owner about purchasing it, but he was unwilling to sell. One day while my crew was replacing the roof on the café building, the roof on the abandoned building next door collapsed.

At that point, the owner decided that selling it might be a good idea?

Mueller: That’s it. I bought that building, gutted it and rebuilt it using some of the same bricks.

So the café moved into the new, larger building.

Mueller: Yes. The Santa Fe Trail Café is operated today by two local people – Pat Dalke and her daughter Ashley Thornhill.

They run it in the same style as Butch and Phyllis. It is open every day for lunch except Saturday. There’s a chicken fried steak special every Sunday. This has been a real staple of the community. The farmers really support it.

So the starting point for improving Tampa’s demographics was your purchase and renovation of this building in the town center?

Mueller: In fact, it was. Another large building downtown housed the post office. That building was owned by an out-of-state owner who chose not to put funds into the maintenance of it. Eventually the building deteriorated to the point that the post office closed.

I also purchased and renovated that building. Ultimately it came to house a volunteer grocery store.

How is the grocery store funded?

Mueller: We sold 180 shares at $100 a share. Additional fundraising was done to fund store equipment and inventory.

Today, the Tampa Trail Stop store operates as a non-profit, volunteer-led grocery store.

The nearest grocery store is 30 miles away, so we wanted to save our older people an hour round-trip.

We’re open limited hours, 4 to 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday and 10 to 1 on Friday and Saturday.

What’s sold there?

Mueller: The store carries such staples as milk, bread and canned goods as part of some 3,500 items in inventory.

The store also strives to market locally grown products such as honey, fresh produce, and items such as Krehbiels Specialty Meats in McPherson and Wiebe cheese which comes from the nearby rural community of Durham, population 89 people.

Tampa Trail Stop works with Dales’ Grocery in Hillsboro to source grocery supplies. People tell us what they need and we carry it.

The store operates in one-quarter of the building downtown.

Mueller: Yes. Also located in the building is a hair salon, community room and fitness center.

The fitness center is an example of how a young local family became entrepreneurs. A husband-and-wife pair of pharmacists live in Tampa with their five kids. They wanted a place to workout but there was no room in their home. They rented part of the building downtown and put in workout equipment, and now they’re selling memberships.

Is there a bank in Tampa?

Mueller: Yes. Even as Tampa struggled in previous years with businesses closing, the town managed to maintain the locally owned Tampa State Bank. Chris Costello is an attorney and Tampa State Bank president.

Chris has been instrumental in the progress of our community. He is all about building the community. He has supported these various projects.

Who else supports your community?

Mueller: In 2018, the Diamond Vista Wind Project began operating in the region. In this case, they located the wind turbines in an area of less productive ground, so it was a good fit for this area.

Diamond Vista officials helped form the Tampa Community Foundation and rebuilt the library on a vacant lot in town. They’ve been very good partners for the community. The community foundation now offers all high school seniors scholarships for any type of post-secondary education or training.

So you invite all entrepreneurs and volunteers who want to make a difference by investing in Tampa?

Mueller: Yes, we invite and are waiting for them!


By Gilbert Castro | ENC News


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