By Scott Smith Kokomo Tribune
---- — Some know them as LeaderOne Financial Corp. More probably know them as The Two Mortgage Guys.
Ryan Minick and Steve DeLon aren’t particular, either way is fine. They’ve been in Kokomo, surviving and thriving as mortgage brokers, for the past nine years as a team, first at GMAC Mortgage, then at First Republic and now on their own as LeaderOne.
Their downtown offices, at 202 N. Main St., are at the center of what has become the First Friday movement in Kokomo, the after-hours mini-festivals downtown business owners put on once a month, on — you guessed it — the first Friday.
“It was almost like when you move houses, we just got the ‘welcome wagon’ feel from everyone downtown, it’s such a culture down here,” DeLon said. “When we were out on Hoffer Street I don’t know if we had one business owner stop by and say hi.”
That’s not an issue now, as Minick, DeLon and office staffers Carrie Hair, Laura Stiner and Katrina Hartz are part of the small business renaissance along Main and Walnut streets in downtown Kokomo.
In their space since January and fully settled for the past few months, the office becomes a bit of a party on First Fridays, with the local homebrew club a frequent visitor (with samples, of course) and the public invited to view Leader’s hallway full of old Kokomo photos.
Older Kokomo residents will remember the Hotel Francis (which burned down) and the Hill’s Snappy Service Hamburgers joint, near the old railroad lookout post which still stands along Buckeye Street.
Hair has taken over the social media functions for First Fridays, and Minick and DeLon have become ringleaders, along with the Youngs over at Main Street Café.
Have they gotten business from First Fridays? The answer from both of the mortgage guys is an unequivocal yes.
“It’s a natural opportunity for us to get some exposure, and we’ve closed loans for people we’ve met at First Fridays,” Minick said.
“We’re not a retail business, so moving down here wasn’t going to make or break our success, but we wanted to try and find ways to capitalize on being here, and it’s been great.”
Downtown is different these days, they say, than 10 years ago. For one thing, Main Street isn’t a timed-stoplight highway heading one-way south anymore. Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight’s decision to revert the streets to two-way traffic was crucial, they said.
“If that hadn’t happened, there’s zero chance we would be having this conversation right now,” Minick said.
So downtown gets another anchor business, sandwiched in between Granson Jewelers and the Bohemian Tattoo Club.
Talking to Minick and DeLon, it’s apparent the pleasant surprise of hundreds of Kokomoans strolling the streets during First Fridays hasn’t worn off yet. They’re making plans to keep the festivals rolling year-round, possibly even adding a main stage or applying for street closures.
“I think you have to keep mixing it up, so it stays fresh. You can’t just stay open until 9,” Minick offered.
And the optimism over downtown is matched by their optimism over their business. After several down years, the industry is starting to come back. Lenders are still tight on credit requirements, but consumer confidence is returning, Minick said.
“There’s been a big shift this year,” he said. “I think the market has changed dramatically.”
Scott Smith can be reached at 765-454-8569 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.