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Cedar Rapids businesses rush to open after flood shutdown

Customers brave morning mist and remaining road barriers

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CEDAR RAPIDS — For the Hand family, Saturdays typically involve having lunch downtown.

As Cedar Rapids was dissolving its evacuation zones and letting people back in, JoAnn Hand, 49, of Cedar Rapids was not sure what was in store.

“I wasn’t expecting anybody to be open until next week,” she said.

But she and her sons gave it a shot, landing at Parlor City Pub in a still somewhat empty NewBo.

And they weren’t alone at the pub, as many of its high tables and booths were filled with patrons who braved the Saturday morning mist and the risk of closures for food, drinks and the chance to watch the Hawkeye football game.

“It’s a limited menu, of course,” Hand said, “But they still have quite an extensive amount of options.”

With the Cedar River forecast last week to swell to near historic levels, the city created an evacuation zone representing a 28-foor crest. After the river crested near 22 feet Tuesday, officials narrowed the zone Wednesday and then allowed residents and merchants who evacuated to return Friday.

With the river down to 12.7 feet Saturday morning, the zone reopened to the public, although crews continued to remove road barricades.

Jon Jelinek, whose family owns Parlor City, said the city has been great in helping businesses reopen and customers have been great in their swift return.

Part of the reason Parlor City was back in business so quickly, Jelinek said, was his decision not to bother with sandbags.

As a property owner in the area during the flood of 2008, Jelinek said he saw little benefit from doing so. He got water in his basement then. And he got water in the basement now — about 3 feet.

By Saturday night, Jelinek said, his eatery would have its full menu.

“The only real damage we had was to our cooler system for all our beer,” he said. “We’ll work on getting all the beers back on tap here in the next week or two.”

Across the street, businesses like the NewBo Alehouse and Brewhemia remained closed Saturday as owners and employees unstacked sandbags and pulled down plastic.

Across the river in the Czech Village, business owners scrambled to restock shelves in hopes that residents would heed Mayor Ron Corbett’s call to shop, eat and drink in flood-impacted areas to help merchants recover.

Pam Lewis, owner of Czech Village Antiques, served as witness to that concern Saturday.

“We were having a really good month of September,” she said. “It may have broken records, actually. And then all of a sudden we got nothing. So yeah, it hurts. It hurts.”

Saturday, she started in earnest the cleanup and move-in process, hoping to reopen in a week. With thousands of items to unwrap and re-shelve, the task loomed large but remained realistic, thanks to help from friends and volunteers.

Lou Thompson, owner of the Village Meat Market & Café, said this flood — though water never reached her door — caused at least $20,000 in losses, as she had to liquidate perishable inventory, move equipment and close for the week.

“Places like me, we’ve been open 4 1/2 years and were just starting to make it,” she said. “It’s the loss of business that a lot of us don’t know whether they can reopen or not. We are going to do the very best we can.”

This is not the first time Thompson has been through devastating flooding. She survived Hurricane Katrina while living in Mississippi and returned home to Cedar Rapids before the 2008 floods. “Third time is not a charm,” she said.

With dry streets, bridges and interstate ramps, downtown Cedar Rapids looked normal Saturday — save the absence of many people.

“There’s nobody here,” said Nick Rhodes, manager of Red’s Public House, as he prepared for reopening Sunday evening.

Like Parlor City, though, businesses that were open Saturday hummed with activity. By noon, Pub 217 on Third Street SE was three-fourths full, and owners said they expected a full house later.

“It’s hard not to feel positive today after a rough week,” said Bryan Bredman, who with his wife, Stephanie, opened the pub one year ago.

He said it’s heartwarming to see so many people supporting downtown businesses.

La Cantina Bar and Grill on Second Street SE reopened at 11:30 a.m. Friday and entertained good crowds into night, said shift manager Nate Eisenhart. By noon Saturday, most of his booths were full again, giving him a “positive, high-energy feeling.”

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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