Jim and Daphne Bowman

Citizen Spotlight: Jim and Daphne Bowman

Jim and Daphne Bowman have been a valuable part of Downtown Excelsior Springs’ revitalization (photo by S Jason Cole).

Twenty-one years ago Excelsior Springs was a vastly different place. Empty storefronts and abandoned buildings dominated the downtown area. After decades of decline, a few brave souls who shared a vision for the future emerged to lead a renewed effort to revitalize the historic properties that once served a thriving tourist community. Amongst those leading the charge were Jim and Daphne Bowman, owners of Willow Spring Mercantile. The Bowman’s were nearing completion of a renovation they’d done on a condemned home at 112 Garland Ave when they were shown the property at 249 E Broadway, which would eventually become Willow Spring Mercantile. 

The Bowmans have turned their home into a welcoming retreat complete with vineyards and fruit trees (submitted photo).

“It was on the dangerous buildings list slated to be destroyed,” said Daphne. “None of the sections were connected and there were no stairs,” added Jim. Their original plan was to have a small antique shop upstairs and an office for Daphne downstairs for her budding real estate career. Repairs were slow, but they didn’t rush because Broadway was getting a facelift and the streets and sidewalk were torn up. When they finally opened their doors in 2005, they realized almost immediately that they were going to need to shift their focus. “The street had been closed for two years and nobody was thinking about downtown Excelsior Springs at that time,” said Jim. 

Jim and Daphne, back row center, model their new Willow Spring shirts. The Bowmans employ more than 15 citizens in our community (submitted photo).

The Bowmans realized they needed something to attract both tourists and locals. They began experimenting with coffee, candles, soaps, and other quality consumable goods. Once they hit on Missouri wines, things really clicked and began to stabilize and even grow. As customers came in they’d ask “what else is there to do here?” and Jim and Daphne would draw maps and give directions. They began thinking about not just their business but the downtown community. “I sat down and wrote out a list of all of the things we had to offer here in Excelsior Springs,” said Jim. Daphne took that list and turned it into what essentially became a downtown visitor’s guide. “That silly guide was everywhere and it really got us to think about how we could work together,” Jim said. 

When the Bowmans first opened Willow Spring Mercantile there were only a handful of businesses in operation downtown. “Things were kind of scattered,” said Daphne, “You’d have a couple of businesses and walk a couple of blocks, then a shop, then half a block.” They knew that if they could work together with the other downtown businesses they could pool their resources to more effectively reach an audience outside of Excelsior Springs. “That’s how the Downtown Excelsior Partnership got started,” said Daphne. The duo emphasized that they weren’t the only business moving things forward. “We had a group of cultured people who were already in business, Jill and Wendy at Ventana, Keith Winge who was at the Elms, Old English Garden Shoppe, Scandinavian Country, as well as several others including Greg Martin, Dave Rhodus, and Daryl and Connie Couts.” 

249 E. Broadway was once condemned but now it’s coveted (photo by Courtney Cole).

Momentum began to build and more and more people got involved. DEP became a registered non-profit organization and took on a life of its own. “We were the new people in town and we just helped push things forward along with everyone else,” said Daphne. The Bowmans say there’s a culture that a downtown can create in special communities all around the country and they could see the potential for those things here in Excelsior Springs.  “What this building did was more than just be a little restaurant,” said Jim “we felt it became part of something bigger.”

As things have grown over the past 15 years Excelsior Springs is seeing more and more positive change. When they started out Jim says they dreamed of all of the good things that could come. Now there are so many exciting things happening it’s hard to keep track. “We said we needed a bike community, now we have Opal Wapoo, we said we needed vintage cars and now there’s a car club that meets downtown on Fridays, it’s really cool,” said Jim. The Bowmans say that Excelsior Springs is at a place where other communities are looking to us now as the positive example of “how to do it right.” 

Sun warms the outdoor pagoda at Willow Spring Mercantile on a brisk day in Excelsior Springs (photo by Courtney Cole).

Daphne says she’s seen the shift away from the negative mindset that some Excelsorites have had about our community to one of positivity and hope for the future. They said having a steady stream of tourists visiting them each day has helped them to keep a fresh perspective on the community and of the potential we still have. They point out that other communities are quite jealous of the things we have here, the historic downtown footprint, the Elms, wineries, a brewery, arts, culture, hospital, good schools, a community center, and more. “We’ve worked really hard to help people understand that mindset shift, of looking at what we have here and to see the potential of what we can be again,” said Daphne. Jim used a sports analogy to get the point across. “As Chiefs fans we used to say I wish we had an Elway, I wish we had Brady or Peyton Manning. But now we have Patrick Mahomes and everyone wishes they were us,” he chuckled. “But now we ARE that community, we ARE that tourist destination, and we should be proud of it,” he concluded.

Each week we select a citizen (or citizens) from Excelsior Springs and highlight the positive impact they are having on our community. Click here to nominate someone for the Citizen Spotlight!

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