In early 2016, Deluxe received nearly 10,000 nominations from coast to coast, as we sought one special small town that needed a boost. We narrowed that group down to two finalists for the Small Business Revolution on Main Street contest.
After more than 180,000 votes, Wabash was the winner! The transformation was captured in an original eight-episode series telling the story of the inspiring people we met and the challenges they faced. Take a look below at how it all started, and learn more about the town of Wabash and the people you’ll see in the show!
About the Town
While the origination of Wabash dates back even earlier, it was 1880 when the town secured a unique place in history by becoming the first electrically lit city in the world. Wabash is determined to shine brighter than ever.
This small northeastern Indiana town, about 85 miles from Indianapolis, is named for the river that runs through the county. The historic small town certainly hasn’t lost its spark, but it has taken a hit from urban sprawl, which has drawn businesses and workers out of downtown. Meanwhile, a diminishing industrial base has significantly altered the local economy.
But with each consecutive challenge, Wabash, which is home to about 11,000 residents, has shown incredible resiliency – in fact, the passionate members of its close-knit community have only grown closer, and they can offer inspiration for small businesses everywhere who are working to navigate similar changes.
“We had a flood a couple years ago in the store, and business owners came out at midnight in their pajamas in January, freezing cold, to help us bail water.” – Tracy Griffith, co-owner of Thriftalicious in Wabash
These independent small business owners of all stripes have banded together in a concerted effort to revitalize their downtown core – from a pastor who runs a popular tattoo parlor, to the proprietors of a vintage video game shop, to a trusted barber who often has a long line of customers awaiting their chance at a haircut.
Meet the Characters
Chief Brand and Communications Officer, Deluxe Corporation
Amanda Brinkman is the Chief Brand and Communications Officer at Deluxe Corporation. Brinkman spearheaded the Small Business Revolution, a movement that began in 2015 as part of Deluxe’s 100th anniversary celebration, which profiled 100 compelling small businesses across the country in photo and video essays. The series also includes a documentary film, featuring Brinkman, Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec and other small business experts, that showcases the importance of small businesses to the American economy.
This year, the Small Business Revolution – Main Street went one step further, documenting the $500,000 revitalization of Wabash in an online series featuring Brinkman and Herjavec. In the series, Brinkman tackles a variety of marketing challenges for featured small businesses in Wabash.
Brinkman is credited with creating a movement and new brand positioning for Deluxe. As a member of the Executive Leadership Team, Amanda’s responsibilities include advertising, enterprise brand, media relations, the Deluxe Foundation and marketing strategy planning for Deluxe. Brinkman has an extensive background in brand marketing which includes corporate and agency experience.
Business Entrepreneur, The Herjavec Group
Dynamic entrepreneur and Shark Tank investor, Robert Herjavec, joined the Small Business Revolution in 2015, inspired by the movement’s celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit. Herjavec serves as the Small Business Revolution’s spokesperson and was a featured expert in the movement’s long-form documentary about the importance of small business in America. This year, Herjavec lends his entrepreneurial and business expertise to Wabash’s small businesses in the Main Street online series.
A first generation immigrant from Yugoslavia, Herjavec arrived in Canada with his family at the age of eight. Learning his work ethic from his parents, Herjavec did everything from delivering newspapers, and waiting tables, to launching a computer company from his basement.
Herjavec’s entrepreneurial drive led to his success today, having built and sold several IT companies to major corporations. In 2003, Herjavec launched The Herjavec Group, one of North America’s largest IT security providers. Herjavec is also a best-selling author providing business inspiration and advice to readers.
Executive Director, Wabash Marketplace, Inc.
Steve Downs is a partner in the Wabash law firm that bears his name and the executive director of Wabash Marketplace, Inc. Downs has served as president of Honeywell Foundation, Wabash Rotary Club, Wabash County Chamber of Commerce, the Wabash City Schools Board and Wabash Marketplace. Downs has also served as a director for Economic Development Group, Community Foundation of Wabash County, United Fund, First National Bank in Wabash, Norwest Bank and Indiana Lawrence Bank. He was named the City’s 1983 Distinguished Citizen, is a former city attorney and presently serves as Wabash County attorney. A graduate of Wabash High School, Downs has B.S. and J.D. degrees from Indiana University. Steve lives in Wabash with his wife, Lisa Ellen Downs.
Executive Director of Tourism, Visit Wabash County
Christine Flohr is the executive director of tourism of Visit Wabash County. A graduate of Southwood High School, Flohr attended Ball State University. Since returning to Wabash, Flohr has been extensively involved in the Wabash community including as a member of the Wabash Rotary Club, Wabash Elks #471 and ArtsFest Committee. Flohr has also served as a board member for the Wabash River Defenders, Wabash FAME Festival, Wabash Marketplace, North Manchester Chamber of Commerce, Wabash Cannonball Chili for Charity and Wabash City Schools as PTO Vice President. She was awarded an Outstanding Achievement for Cycling Advancement, Community Partner of the Year and Environmental Preservationist of the Year awards. Flohr has served on local economic investment round-tables such as America’s Best Communities and Stellar Communities, in which Wabash won the Stellar Community Designation by the State of Indiana in 2014.
Mayor Scott Long
Mayor of Wabash
Scott Long is Mayor of Wabash, Indiana, having been sworn into office in January 2016. A native Wabashian, Mayor Long has spent the majority of his career in service, having served on the Wabash City Police Department from 1994 until his retirement in 2015. From 1989-1994, Mayor Long worked for several local businesses in Wabash. Upon graduation from Northfield High School, he enlisted in the US Army, serving from 1982-1989.
Harry and Judy Kilmer
Co-owners, Harry’s Old Kettle Pub & Grill
Harry Kilmer, and his wife Judy, are co-owners of Harry’s Old Kettle Pub & Grill, a bar that has been a Wabash institution for more than 50 years. The Kilmers bought “The Kettle” in 2013, so Harry, a local chef, could pursue his dream of opening his own restaurant. Known as a comfortable, safe place for locals to hang out, the Kilmers have maintained the spirit of “The Kettle” while also making needed enhancements. In addition to running Harry’s Old Kettle, Harry is a full-time chef at nearby Taylor University.
Lisa Ellen Downs
Owner, Ellen’s Bridal & Dress Boutique
Lisa Ellen Downs is the owner of Ellen’s Bridal & Dress Boutique in downtown Wabash. After spending the majority of her career as a paralegal, Downs decided to foster her lifelong love of fashion and her desire to help women find attire for special occasions, by purchasing Ellen’s four years ago.
Downs’ attention to detail and her smart, elegant and sophisticated taste offers customers the style and atmosphere of a big-city boutique with the personal service of a small town store. She is a graduate of Huntington University. Lisa lives in Wabash with her husband, Steve Downs.
Owner, Filament Tattoo Co.
Matt Haynes opened Filament Tattoo Co. in downtown Wabash in 2014. After spending 15 years serving as a Pastor in countries around the world, Haynes decided it was time for a change. Haynes wanted to make a bigger impact in his community outside of the church, and after spending several years hanging around tattoo shops he decided it was time to open his own studio. Filament Tattoo provides a clean, creative, comfortable and laid back environment to its customers. Matt and his wife, Pam, live in Wabash with their seven children.
Maria and Mike Smyth
Co-owners, Eclectic Shoppe
Maria and Mike Smyth have been owners of Eclectic Shoppe, located in downtown Wabash, since 2015. Their love of travel and unique, locally made finds is what sparked the idea to open their own shop, and feature distinct art created by local artisans. In Eclectic Shoppe, the Smyths have curated a mix of vintage and modern décor, handcrafted jewelry, local artwork, accessories and up-cycled items.
Tracy and Aaron Griffith
Tracy and Aaron Griffith are the owners of Thriftalicious, a resale shop located in downtown Wabash. Lifelong Wabash residents and grade school sweethearts, Tracy and Aaron, started Thriftalicious out of their garage, selling their finds from garage and estate sales. Today, their business occupies a downtown storefront where they specialize in selling “Old School Cool,” including vintage video games and toys, mid-century modern furniture and other nostalgic treasures. The Griffiths live in downtown Wabash with their four children.
Owner, Schlemmer Brothers
Kent Henderson is the fourth generation owner of Schlemmer Brothers, metalworks and retail hearth shop that has been in business since 1903. Schlemmer Brothers is known in Wabash for their sheet metal work, their hardware store that features stoves and grills, and their chimney sweeping service. An engineer by trade, Henderson devotes much of his time to the custom sheet metal shop, which carries 60 percent of Schlemmer Brothers business. Henderson lives in Wabash with his wife, Julie, and their two children.
Retail Manager, Schlemmer Brothers
Kris White is the manager at Schlemmer Brothers retail store in downtown Wabash. White spent five years as a corrections officer prior to joining the Schlemmer Brothers team as an installer. After a few months as an installer, White began managing the Schlemmer Brothers retail business including the stove, fireplace, grill and hardware sales. White lives in Wabash with his wife, Amber, and two kids.