IOLA, Kan. — It’s a familiar theme across America—small towns struggling with empty businesses on the town square.
But one Southeast Kansas community is bucking the trend.
Welcome to the largest town square in America.
“There’ve been measurements, there’s been competitions to see who is bigger, and yes, we are officially the largest town square in the United States,” said Robin Schallie, Executive Director, Iola Chamber of Commerce and Tourism.
And five decades ago, Angela Wray’s dad chose to make it the home of his new business.
“He opened in 1972 as a Sherwin Williams paint dealer,” said Angela Wray, Decorator Supply.
Now she runs the business and says she can’t imagine being anywhere other than the square.
“I don’t think I would have the foot traffic that I have, and I get a lot of foot traffic here just because of people coming into town, and they actually walk the square,” said Wray.
Iola Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Robin Schallie says that’s just one part of what’s kept the square alive in Iola.
“I think that we as a community really rally around each other to make these things happen, the other is that we are offering more and more things to bring people to the square,” said Schallie.
Iola City Administrator Matt Rehder says it’s that combination that’s a big part of the square’s success.
“You come down here, you can get something to eat, you can get something to drink, you can shop, you can visit professional offices,” said Matt Rehder, Iola City Administrator.
And the energy of a revived town square is infectious.
“Bringing in these new businesses does kind of invigorate everything, and they kind of add to the vigor of the town,” said Rehder.
And that energy is even helping to keep the old guard feeling young.
“It’s exciting to see all of the new stuff, and the businesses that are coming into town are younger people, which I think is fantastic,” said Wray.