“Patience and Perseverance” Pays Off for New Midwest Gym

Apex Climbing Gym bouldering walls
The path to opening Apex Climbing Gym in Mishawaka wasn’t a smooth one, but Phase 1 is finally in the books, and nearby university students now have a commercial climbing gym in the area. (All photos by Sharmaine Rach, courtesy of Apex Climbing Gym)

Apex Climbing Gym
Mishawaka, Indiana

Specs: Apex Climbing Gym opened this month in Mishawaka, Indiana, with owners Michael Dickens, Thomas Shpakow, Jeanne Liechty and Rebecca Wyse at the head. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 2013, Dickens—now CEO of Apex—began working as a consultant and, at the same time, familiarizing himself with the indoor climbing industry. That interest led to Dickens investing in a Metro Rock facility owned and operated by friends of his, with “their entrepreneurship and encouragement” inspiring him to embark on opening a gym of his own. “There were some bumps along the way, but we finally got the right team together with the right location and funding,” said Dickens. “As they say, ‘Third time’s a charm!’”

Capitan software


After looking at multiple properties, the Apex team decided a site in Mishawaka—situated only a few miles from Dickens’s alma mater—would best fit their needs. “Our location at 5505 Grape Road in Mishawaka is centrally located, with some 40,000 college students within a 15-minute easy drive and some 700,000 people within an hour drive,” detailed Dickens. “The property came with an existing 15,000-square-foot structure along with open property for the option of another 15,000-square-foot structure—just about perfect for getting bouldering started and then expanding to roped climbing once finances are positive enough.” Housed in a former bookstore, the building’s interior was redesigned to include 7,000 square feet of bouldering space in the Phase 1 build out, in addition to an event space, lounge, and fitness/training area. After the completion of Phase 2—expected to begin two to three years from now—Apex will have top ropes, lead climbing, auto belays, an Olympic speed wall, and improved fitness amenities.

Apex training boards
The fitness/training area at the new Apex gym includes multiple training boards as well as space for weightlifting.

While the gym is not connected to the closed Apex Climbing Gym in Kansas City, Dickens and Shpakow did connect with Phil Ratterman, the former owner of the closed Apex location, to discuss logistics. Having worked with Shpakow at the Kansas City gym, Ratterman quickly made the pair a “good deal” on all climbing related assets, which they packed and collected in December 2021. “Apex Climbing Gym Mishawaka will use the same website, branding, logo and signage as Apex Climbing Gym Kansas City, but otherwise there is no legal connection between the two businesses. Phil has been providing us with advice over the past year or so, which has been invaluable,” said Dickens.

Eldorado Climbing


Dickens had hoped to open Apex in 2022, but funding pre- and post-Covid took much longer than expected. “During my roughly 10 years of efforts, I met multiple entrepreneurs who had tried to get indoor climbing started and each faced this same obstacle, going back to the late 1990s,” Dickens explained. “Apex Climbing Gym Mishawaka will be a $2M project, but raising even this modest level of funding took us almost two years.” The team opted for an SBA loan because they could easily raise the owners’ portion of the loan, but this loan required them to work with a local bank. “Convincing [the bank] of the financial viability of our proposed business took nearly half a year and required us to pay for an external market assessment, even though our proposed financials were sensible and modeled on an actual climbing facility,” said Dickens. “In the end, our efforts—but mostly our patience and perseverance—paid off.”

Jeremy Collins artwork at Apex
Alongside the construction of Apex’s bouldering walls and accouterments, the redesign of the former bookstore’s interior was capped off with some custom artwork by Jeremy Collins.

Walls: Owner/Contractor
Flooring: UCS
CRM Software: RGP
Website: www.apexclimbinggym.com
Instagram: @ApexClimbingGym

In Their Words: “Rarely do all of the pieces come together quickly to get a climbing gym started, and thus when they don’t, have patience with yourself, your banker, your investors, etc. So long as the cost of moving forward is within your budget, persevere until your success or failure is obvious, and if the latter then once you know it acknowledge it and shut down as quickly as you can; don’t linger unless there is a reasonable chance of success.” – Michael Dickens, Apex Climbing CEO

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