Entrepreneurs in Muskogee, OK

Muskogee, OK has a diverse mix of local entrepreneurs and small business owners who thrive thanks to support from the Muskogee community.

By Heather R. Johnson on Mon, 06/24/2013 - 01:00

Large corporations may choose Muskogee for its ease of transportation or its low cost of living, but local entrepreneurs and small business owners look to the residents themselves as one secret to their success.

A diverse mix of locally owned-and-operated endeavors hang their shingles in Muskogee thanks to a close-knit community and a mayor, Bob Coburn, who is working to revitalize the historically rich city.

One stimulating sign of downtown change can be seen in Erly Rush Coffeehouse. Launched in November 2012 by then-22-year-old native Nicholas Wilks, Erly Rush is the first nonchain coffee shop to open in the city. The intimate café sits in the middle of a cluster of antique shops, including Hattie's House and Vintage Market, both owned by Wilks' mother, Sherry Wilks.

"People like that they can walk from one end of the strip to the other and stop by for coffee in the middle," Wilks says, who will craft anything from a caramel macchiato to a peppermint mocha for his guests.

Show It Off

Like Wilks, who has been developing his business plan since high school, Muskogee native Jason Jones got his entrepreneurial start at an early age. After many years honing his business skills, in September 2011, Jones expanded his burgeoning online inflatable rides business, Show It Off, to a larger scale by offering rentals as well as a family entertainment center, which is located inside an old airplane hangar at Love-Hatbox Sports Complex.

"The city wanted to expand Hatbox and helped us with the building, which was a great stepping stone," Jones says. "The city has been a very supportive partner."

Show It Off's entertainment center includes huge inflatable slides and obstacle courses, as well as an arcade room and two party rooms.

"I've had lots of people tell me, 'we needed something like this!' Parents are always looking for more stuff to do with their kids," he says.

Party Time

Susannah Stephens also saw a void that needed filled, and teamed with partners Jim Harris and Darren Kilpatrick to launch Kilharen's Lodge, an in-demand "party place" and wedding venue on West Fern Mountain Road, not far from the easy-to-spot Castle of Muskogee.

Stephens managed and cooked in restaurants for years before starting the catering company that would evolve into Kilharen's Lodge. "We got very used to traveling for catering clients," Stephens says, "but also felt that Muskogee really needed a place for events."

Local couples saw Kilharen's Lodge as an ideal wedding locale due to its rustic charm and ample seating (up to 400 in the main ballroom), which prompted Kilharen's to expand to include an outdoor wedding garden.

Stephens notes that even during the recession, Kilharen's Lodge maintained solid bookings thanks to support from Muskogee. "People always have to eat, and they're always going to get married!" she says. 

Stephens and other entrepreneurs cite the people of Muskogee as one of its greatest assets. "I've lived in Muskogee all my life," Jones says. "Show It Off has grown so much in the past year and a half, and that's due to the people of Muskogee."

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Heather Johnson is a freelance writer and Nashville native currently living in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in Mix, EQ, Audio Media and Performing Songwriter, among others, as wel...