116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
In March 2020, the Dandy Lion’s business was down 50 percent compared to past years. This past March, however, has made owner Thomas Connolly feel “guardedly optimistic” about the second summer of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In April we’re starting off really busy ...,” Connolly said. “Our numbers are definitely trending significantly upwards.”
As the weather gets nicer, patios open and more Iowans get vaccinated, Corridor businesses are seeing a jump from 2020, and are gearing up to treat this summer like any other.
The Dandy Lion in Iowa City still is operating at a limited capacity to keep staff and customers safe.
Connolly said this has his restaurant underperforming for now. And it will be hard to get sales back to where they were historically until they’re at full capacity, he said.
However, he’s planning on opening patio seating soon, and additional seating from the Iowa City Downtown District has customers stopping by.
Right now 14 employees work at the Dandy Lion. Connolly said they most likely will hire a couple more people in a month or so if the restaurant stays busy.
Usually around 20 employees are hired to work over the summer, but they’re holding off for now.
At least one event, the Iowa City Arts Festival put on by Iowa City Summer of the Arts, has been pushed back to later in the season. Connolly said this will result in fewer people roaming the Pedestrian Mall where his restaurant operates, potentially generating less business.
“We anticipate being busier, but we won’t have a lot of that, especially afternoon and evening business until July or so,” Connolly said. “I would imagine there’s certainly fewer people downtown, those types of people for any of these events.”
The Map Room, however, probably will hire more staff than a normal summer to keep up with customers and COVID-19 mitigation practices. The downtown Cedar Rapids restaurant sees very busy weekends if the weather is nice, co-owner Christina Springman said.
The patio seating the restaurant has opened for the spring doubles its capacity, so Springman typically hires to almost double her staff, with about five additional servers and kitchen workers for the season.
She said they might hire on a couple more employees to help keep up the sanitation practices they’ve implemented throughout the pandemic and assist the summer crowd in maintaining social distancing and following the rules of the restaurant.
“It takes a lot more people to manage the people when you’re trying to keep it safe,” Springman said.
Hiring front-of-house staff for the summer has been easy, Springman said, but it’s been difficult to find employees to work in the kitchen.
While there always have been issues with getting kitchen work applicants who genuinely want to work at the Map Room, usually a great variety of people still apply. But that’s not happening this year.
There could be a number of reasons for this, she said, such as people being afraid to come back into the workforce or having unemployment benefits they don’t want to give up.
According to Iowa Workforce Development, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in February remained at 3.6 percent. The number of unemployed Iowans increased from 58,000 to 58,300, but 3,200 Iowans also became employed.
Connolly said they had issues hiring employees in the fall, but there seems to be more people looking for jobs now.
The Marion Municipal Swimming Pool is set to open May 31, and Marion Parks and Recreation Department Recreation/Aquatics Coordinator Karlene Hummel wrote in an email that they’re planning on hiring as many, if not more, employees than a normal summer.
The pool generally employs 50 to 55 people for the season.
Hummel wrote they will be holding swimming lessons, but at 50 percent capacity. Other protocols are still being determined.
However, it’s been difficult to find applicants. Hummel said that because the pool wasn’t open at all last summer, many employees who were expected to return have found other jobs. And there is uncertainty as to whether the pool will be able to stay open all summer.
“They want to make sure we’re 100-percent opening,” Hummel said.
Jill Muckler said she hasn’t had issues finding people to hire at the Dairy Queen she owns on Cedar Rapids’s northeast side. She’s just started advertising for jobs due to a slow February, but she’s already interviewed a couple potential employees and isn’t worried about finding more.
Nine people currently work at the Dairy Queen, and Muckler said she plans to bring on four or five more just as with any other summer. Many of the people she hires for the season are friends of current employees and come in on their recommendation, making it easier to find people.
She’s optimistic about this summer being good for business, as long as the weather stays nice.
“I think people want a treat, want to be out doing things that make them feel better,” Muckler said.
Springman said she’s a little nervous about the restaurant not being able to handle the demand of customers itching to get outside after a year of isolation.
Without a full staff hired, it’s been tough to keep up the past couple weekends. The patio that saved business last summer is packing people in ahead of this one, and things are looking up.
“We’re hopeful,” she said. “A little hesitantly hopeful.”
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