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Peering into the future at Tampa

Staff writer

Any apprehensions David Mueller had were washed away with a quick burst of tears.

Mueller was not sure Cassandra Clemmer was the right person to run a salon in Tampa. She definitely had connections to the community. She grew up six miles outside of town. Her grandfather was Jim Clemmer, who was mayor for over 20 years, and is still a revered figure in town after his death.

However, Thursday was the first chance Mueller had to formalize a deal with her in person. He talked to her about the prospect of a salon last year, but the timing was not right for either party. There was also the hairstylist’s appearance.

She wore her hair in a tight crop, black with streaks of platinum blonde. She wore a pink stud in her tongue. A tank top revealed a large tattoo on her right shoulder — a black and gray characterization of the bone and muscle underneath the skin. Clemmer admitted that her style was not obviously compatible with the older client base she expected to serve in Tampa.

“I get a lot of looks when people first meet me,” she said.

Growing up in Tampa, Clemmer had seen the old post office building when it was still standing, not in its new incarnation, which could house her salon. She had played in the old grocery store before its roof had collapsed to create the slumped structure that currently resides on Main Street. She knew she could cut hair because she had styled her classmates’ hair when she attended Centre High School.

The town means something to Clemmer. It’s the connections made with people. This was personified in a question about her grandfather and the possibility of continuing a small part of his legacy.

“He’s an important person to a lot of people,” Clemmer said. “Giving back to the community is the least I can do to help. I want the town to stay alive. If it is something as little as this, I’m grateful I can be a part of it.”

Hearing those words syncopated through Clemmer’s tears, Mueller knew he had the right person. Trying to keep the community alive is the reason he owns five buildings on Main Street.

Mueller had a vision for the post office building for the past two years and even with legal hurdles to acquire that building his plan has wavered little, modified some but never aborted. He wanted to build a mini-mall with four storefronts — a small grocery store would carry a base of simple items, a hair salon, a business office that possibly sold insurance, and a conference meeting room.

The storefronts remain vacant but they are intact, complete with air-conditioning and plumbing.

“The worst part is finding a building,” Mueller said. “I just provide a building for people.”

The meeting room features new cabinets and a refrigerator; it only needed a long wooden conference table to be ready. Tampa State Bank has already planned its next board meeting for the conference room.

Clemmer still needs to acquire a chair and sink for her salon, but the utilities in the shop are ready to receive them. Once she has those needs met, she said she will be open to customers, probably on a part-time basis — she owns a shop, Cassie K’s Salon, in Salina.

Grocery store

The grocery store has the most steps until it can be completed. A coalition of Tampa residents — Connie Mahon, Monica Svoboda, Leo Yanda, and Amber Peterson — have been working to acquire grants and funding for the project. They recently attended a rural grocery store summit at Kansas State University to start networking with rural grocery store owners and suppliers. A structure for the store has yet to be decided. Peterson and Mueller agreed that a cooperative or membership structure, where customers would buy stock or a membership, would the best course of action.

Fitness center

Mueller’s primary aim for reviving Tampa is serving the elderly and young populations in town, both of which might have financial constraints that would hinder them from traveling out of town. David and Caterina Rziha are planning to appeal to both groups.

The Rzihas are exactly the type of people Mueller wants to keep in town. They are part-time pharmacists; David also farms. They are also raising three children under the age of 6.

“Our population in Tampa has changed,” Mueller said. “Everybody thinks it’s all old people. In a six-mile radius, we have 80 kids.”

David grew up in Tampa and longed to return. Although Caterina grew up in Overland Park — the couple met at the University of Kansas — she said she has always desired a small-town environment.

“I have three sisters who think I’m crazy,” she said.

Even though his childhood inspired him to return to Tampa, David said he thinks there are fewer playmates for his children now.

“All these little towns keep getting smaller and smaller every year,” David said. “If somebody doesn’t do something, they’re just going to go away.”

The Rzihas contribution to save Tampa is putting in a gym in the space originally intended for a business office. They have acquired six cardio machines and two Smith machines for weight lifting to go into the gym.

They are hoping to entice older residents to walk inside the gym during the summer and winter when inclement weather forces them indoors. They also want to give Centre High School athletes a closer place to train in the offseason.

The Rzihas said they will have a membership program but merely want to cover the cost of rent.

“The goal is to break even and maybe entice more people to live in Tampa.”

The couple has collected the interest of a few people from outside of town. However, the support from people in town was immediately evident. On Thursday, Kyle Peterson, 10, rode his bike by the former post office building and asked if the Rzihas needed any help, although he was still wearing clear plastic gloves from working on the farm.

“There are a lot of people that love Tampa,” Amber Peterson said.

Last modified June 28, 2012

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