Iola family turns second story of downtown businesses into luxury lofts

Sign over an archway

IOLA, Kan. – A little over a year ago, Ben Alexander opened a bike shop in downtown Iola.

“I used to run a non-profit kids program in Kansas City where we repaired bikes at different middle schools after school every day,” says Ben Alexander, owner of Southwind Cycle and Outdoors.

It’s the only bike shop within 60 miles, so he says business has been great.

He also says he’s lucky because of something unique that’s upstairs.

“This helps a small business that otherwise not be able to locate in a small town at all,” says Alexander.

The second story of his building is part of “Experience the Lofts,” a set of luxury lofts that Iolans Terry, Ryan, and Shawn Sparks have brought to life.

Something that cuts Alexander’s rent by more than half.

“We realize the margins are so small in business,” says Terry Sparks with Experience the Lofts.

It’s an idea that started eight years ago with the goal of breathing life back into the square.

“My fear was that in 20 or 30 years if we continue the same way that we’re going, we’re gonna see more and more buildings fall down,” says Terry.

Now they have 11 units available that can be rented for anywhere from one night to a month — complete with a full kitchen, flat-screen tv, and wifi.

“The guests stay here, get up in the morning and walk down to the coffee shop, or check out the retailers below us. They’re not only here to stay and enjoy and appreciate, but they’re also here spending money which is helping the retailers,” says Ryan Sparks, also with Experience the Lofts.

They are currently working on two more units — and want to inspire people in other small towns to do the same.

“We feel like this can probably fit in every small town to some degree. It’s not easy, but is it work it? We think it is,” says Terry.

And for Alexander, it means he can keep doing what he loves without having to worry as much about his overhead.

“It makes the economics of these downtown buildings actually work,” says Alexander.

If you want to learn more about “Experience the Lofts,” click here.