Two furniture shops, a wedding planning business, and marriage counselor join Downtown Iowa City’s women-owned business cluster in August
In March of 2018, the Iowa City Downtown District launched a targeted phase in the organization’s ongoing retail retention and attraction strategy to develop and grow the cluster of women-owned businesses in downtown Iowa City. In the first few months of the recruitment campaign, the organization is seeing success in welcoming four new women-owned businesses to the Downtown District.

In August, the District’s Northside Marketplace neighborhood welcomes Jan Finlayson, owner of Luxe Interiors, a home furnishing and interior design shop.  Formerly located in the Iowa River Landing, Finlayson decided to move her business to 281 N. Linn Street in the Northside Commons building to further grow her business connection to the community that feels like home. “When we were considering the move, I talked to a number of Northside and Downtown business owners, and the sense of community and collaboration made the decision to relocate an easy one.   We have talked to several of our neighbors about collaborating on events like our wine social club, seminars, and fundraisers,” said Finalyson.

In the same Northside building, Amanda Burrell, owner of White Ivy Events, has opened a wedding and event business and will partner with Finlayson. “When the opportunity arose to move my event planning business to downtown Iowa City, I had to take it”, said Burrell. “When I was in school, the University of Iowa supported by business in so many ways. They provided funding to get me started and connected me with local business owners in Iowa City to mentor me in the starting of my own company — now I’m right there alongside them as a recent grad.”

4 S. Dubuque Street downtown will also see a new women-owned business in the former University Camera location.  The Shops Iowa City is a home decor business and is expanding from their first location in Kalona. The Shops Iowa City will feature vintage, restored and repurposed furniture and home decor. “We’ve always loved Downtown Iowa City. It has the feel of a big city but the heart of a small town. The way the retail owners support each other and work together is just amazing. We felt there was an opportunity to bring a thoughtfully curated shop of vintage, found, handmade and new to the downtown area. Our goal is to be the go-to place for unique home decor and lifestyle goods,” said, co-owner of The Shops Iowa City, Jessica Meyer.

In the services sector, Peacewise Therapy, a new marriage counseling and mediation business, has recently opened in the historic Savings & Loan building at 103 E. College Street on the pedestrian mall.  Owner Lauren Melton Tucker relocated from the Northgate area of Iowa City and is taking advantage of downtown as an added value for clients to grab dinner or coffee after sessions in her office, as well as the proximity to the Johnson County courthouse.

This recent spate of retail and other business openings is not an anomaly and more openings will be announced in the coming months, says Iowa City Downtown District’s Executive Director, Nancy Bird. “For many reasons, targeting women-owned businesses as a component of the larger retail strategy is fitting.  It’s low hanging fruit in many ways.  The fact that the State of Iowa consistently ranks near the bottom nationwide for women-owned businesses doesn’t mean that they’re not here, they just aren’t successfully connecting with the financial resources, encouragement, or space opportunities it takes to open a store.  By deliberately targeting female entrepreneurs, we’ve been able to open a portal for a pent-up segment of the retail market that is finally finding its way through and its impact is strengthening the larger retail cluster downtown.”

While the vacancy rate in the downtown area remains low at 3% to 4%, there are currently a handful of right-sized retail and office locations that the Downtown District and its partners are working to fill.  “What’s been really instrumental are the number of business owners that are informally supporting the recruitment effort by encouraging new businesses where offerings are complementary.”

The Downtown District’s 60+ women-owned businesses support each other in many ways through mentoring, a monthly “retail caucus,” showcasing each other’s work, and through the ICDD’s support with collaborative events and marketing strategies. “You know when you open your business Downtown there is a strong multi-dimensional support system behind you”, said Bird.  “That’s a pretty rare offering.”