Iowa City Downtown District kicks off busy holiday season with Small Business Saturday

Classic holiday staples, new events headline monthlong campaign

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IOWA CITY — Closing time on Small Business Saturday won’t mark the end of shopping local for visitors if officials from the Iowa City Downtown District can help it.

Rather, district officials plan to use the day to kick off a month of holiday events to attract shoppers and promote locally owned businesses. Among returning features like free horse-drawn carriage rides and Santa Saturdays, visitors throughout the next month will be able to take advantage of many new features, such as a Teddy bear room and a wrapped mystery gift room that raises money for the United Way.

“We have shifted away from a one-day event to a monthlong campaign,” said Betsy Potter, director of operations for the Downtown District. “Every year we add a little bit more to our holiday campaign and every year we try to do a little bit better job of extending it into a monthlong campaign.”

A major piece of the campaign’s expansion morphed out of the former one-day holiday market. This year, retailers such as Whitties Knitties, Raygun and West Music, among others, will set up shop for three days at a time in pop-up structures around downtown that will stay up for five weeks.

On the days when retailers don’t occupy the space, Potter said different activities are planned for the temporary buildings. Those include a holiday gift expert to give advice to shoppers and a charity Teddy bear room in which to take photos with more than 100 stuffed animals that will be donated to children after the event.

“We sit around and we think of what’s new this year that we can do for the downtown district,” Potter said. “A lot of times, if you try to take an idea from another community and it doesn’t mesh well with who you are, it doesn’t really work. So we kind of make sure we start with ‘who are we?’ and what we think would work here.”

The district hopes Small Business Saturday, scheduled for Nov. 25, will boost its downtown businesses, 90 percent of which are independently owned, according to a Downtown District news release about the event. Small Business Saturday, which takes place on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, is a national movement that began in 2010 to encourage holiday shoppers to support small and local businesses in between Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Last year, small business owners earned $15.4 billion dollars on the day alone, according to American Express, which began the movement. To help with the effort, Iowa City is offering free downtown parking in ramps and on street meters for the day.

“Small Business Saturday, it’s a pretty big holiday for downtown,” Potter said. “It’s a really big day for us. Because it has national recognition, we really leverage that.”

A schedule of events can be found online at

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