Home improvement stores, auto shops in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City still open for business

 

Despite an abundance of temporarily shuttered storefronts in downtown Cedar Rapids or Iowa City, visitors to other, still-trafficked establishments could be forgiven for forgetting for a moment there’s a global pandemic going on.

Essential establishments such as grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations have remained open during the COVID-19 outbreak, while to date Gov. Kim Reynolds’ emergency orders have closed a slew of non-essential businesses, including restaurants, theaters and clothing and jewelry stores.

On Thursday, Reynolds extended the statewide public health emergency that orders a variety of businesses to remain closed until April 30. Violations are a simple misdemeanor

Some other businesses that fall less neatly into either category still are open, too.

Mike Lauderdale, co-owner of Edgewood Hardware in Cedar Rapids, said his store’s sales have been consistent so far, albeit with a shift toward materials for indoor projects — such as painting or spackling — as opposed to the usual lawn and garden supplies.

“If the electricity goes out or a fuse breaks or people have plumbing problems, we’re help to help them out,” he said.

 
 

Lauderdale said four potentially at-risk employees who are older or have medical conditions have been allowed to stay home. Edgewood Hardware also has supplied hand sanitizer and asked customers to maintain social distancing, he said.

“Hopefully, when they come in here and it’s regular customers, they see that we’re being as normal as we can be so they have that comfort level that they’ve always had in here,” Lauderdale said.

Other home improvement stores have remained open with reduced store hours, geared toward giving employees more time to restock shelves and perform sanitizing procedures.

National chain Home Depot, for example, in mid-March said it would close all locations daily at 6 p.m., while Menards will open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sundays.

Lowe’s on March 25 announced it would temporarily start closing all stores at 8:30 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 7 p.m. on Sundays.

Meanwhile, hotels in the Iowa City area by and large have remained open, with some exceptions — Graduate Iowa City, hotelVetro and Hyatt Place so far have shut their doors through May 1, said Josh Schamberger, president of Think Iowa City.

In Cedar Rapids, the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and Convention Center downtown and the Hotel at Kirkwood Center have closed temporarily.

Schamberger said most hotels across the country are experiencing about 10 percent occupancy, down from the typical 65 percent to 70 percent this time of year.

He estimated around 80 percent of Iowa City area hotel workers have been laid off as a result of the coronavirus, and some hotels could close permanently.

 
 

“That’s the state of the industry right now, and it’s pretty disturbing and upsetting, but it’s similar to any other industry right now in this country,” Schamberger said.

“It’s a little bit of wait and see and hope for the best.”

Self-service business Clean Laundry has remained open at its six Corridor locations and, at some stores, has offered customers its “super wash” capacity free of charge.

And Cassill Motors has established both sales and service valet offerings — also free of charge. Upon request by a customer within the Cedar Rapids metro area, a staff member will drive a desired vehicle to the customer to try out in their driveway, or shuttle their car to and from the repair shop — with door handles and the steering wheel disinfected under both arrangements.

Still ‘open’ for business

Most small Iowa City businesses are closed to the public, and have been for weeks.

However, some have remained operational downtown. Curbside pickups and local deliveries of online orders have been a lifeline, though business has not been anywhere near its level before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“With a record store, I think it’s similar to a bookstore. If people can’t come in and peruse a little bit, they have less of a tendency to buy things,” Record Collector owner Bobby Larson said.

He estimated city establishments could lose tens of thousands of dollars of business over a period of months.

 
 

Daydreams Comics owner Zach Power said he has been humbled by his community’s support for the 34-year-old comics store, including multiple school libraries that have reached out to arrange orders.

“A lot of towns aren’t like that, so it really gives you a fresh perspective sometimes how fortunate we are to have Iowa City be the way it is,” he said.

However, Power added, operations are poised to become more difficult, as this Wednesday marked his store’s first week not receiving copies of the latest comic issues, following Maryland-based Diamond Comics Distributors’ decision to temporarily halt print shipments.

“It’s our biggest revenue stream on a weekly basis that has now disappeared and we have no idea when it’s coming back,” said Power, of the new issues, which he estimated compose around 80 percent of his store’s revenue.

‘I was ready to pounce’

Power, Larson and Anne Armitage, co-owner of Moss houseplant and gift shop in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, all have applied for Iowa’s small business relief fund, under which establishments with two to 25 employees can receive grants from $5,000 to $25,000.

“The morning that it opened, at 8 a.m., I was ready to pounce on that,” Armitage said.

Applications for the Iowa Small Business Relief Program closed Tuesday for the grants and award decisions — currently up to $4 million statewide — are expected within two weeks.

 
 

Larson and Power said they also either are considering or waiting for more information on low-interest federal Small Business Administration loans, while Armitage said she filled out a paper application for one.

Armitage said she temporarily closed Moss’ Iowa City location, laid off all 10 part-time employees and delayed or canceled inventory orders where possible to stem the financial bleeding.

Moss, too, is offering curbside pickup for products that cannot be shipped, and though Armitage said she has seen a steady stream of online orders, business is about 20 percent or 30 percent of what it is under normal conditions.

“I feel like we’re doing whatever we can to just kind of juggle and hang on to as much money as we can so that we can have some choices down the road,” she said.