People & Places

Merchants in NewBo gear up for a festival crowd

'It's kind of like a first date,' one says. 'You don't know what to expect'

Little Bohemia, 1317 Third St. SE, is preparing to serve its share of a predicted 30,000 to 50,000 visitors to the “newbo evolve” festival. Owners said they’re calling on friends and volunteers to staff up the tavern, which also plans on renting tables and chairs for the sidewalk in front. There, staff will grill tenderloins, bratwurst and Polish sausage. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Little Bohemia, 1317 Third St. SE, is preparing to serve its share of a predicted 30,000 to 50,000 visitors to the “newbo evolve” festival. Owners said they’re calling on friends and volunteers to staff up the tavern, which also plans on renting tables and chairs for the sidewalk in front. There, staff will grill tenderloins, bratwurst and Polish sausage. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Bars and restaurants in the New Bohemia District are gearing up to serve what they hope will be a healthy share of the 30,000 to 50,000 visitors predicted by organizers to attend this weekend’s first-ever “newbo evolve” festival.

“We’re probably going to do really, really good,” said one of them — Tom Slaughter, owner of Tornado’s Pub and Grub, 1600 Third St. SE. He’s renting tents and seating for 400 in a beer garden in Tornado’s parking lot. “It’s going to be huge.”

Starting Friday, the three-day newbo evolve festival is planned to be a signature event for Cedar Rapids, bringing musical acts Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5 and a slate of speakers including figure skater Adam Rippon, film director John Waters, carpenter Clint Harp and others.

While much of the festival will focus on the NewBo area, events also are scheduled at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Convention Center, Theatre Cedar Rapids and the Cedar Rapids Public Library.

Three-day passes are on sale for $375, plus taxes and fees. General admission tickets to see Kelly Clarkson on Friday are $54.50, plus taxes and fees, and general admission tickets to see Maroon 5 on Saturday are $70, plus taxes and fees.

Besides the possibility of big crowds, the festival will be accompanied by street closures and the unknown of just how many people who have purchased tickets will peel away to restaurants, bars and retailers. Many merchants interviewed said they were at least cautiously optimistic, depending on their niche.

“It’s kind of like a first date,” said Jeremy Vega, owner of the Analog Vault at 215 11th Ave. SE “You don’t know what to expect, but you hope it’s going to go all right.”

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Vega hopes the festival attracts some people interested in the vintage vinyl and stereo equipment he sells.

“We’re a music store in the middle of a three-day music festival,” he said. “That can’t be bad.”

The Raygun T-shirt store will add staff at its 1028 Third St. SE location and introduce some new Cedar Rapids-themed shirts this week, though none branded with newbo evolve.

“We can see all sides of the arguments,” said Raygun founder Mike Draper. “From street closures to weather to people to prices, there’s no way to guarantee a good event. But I think Cedar Rapids has done a good job the last couple of years.”

He said the T-shirts his store sells typically do well at special events. “It’s the only thing you can fire out of a cannon at people and they’re happy,” he said.

Closer to newbo evolve’s main music stage, Dave Owens hopes to sell a few classics, too.

“I’m excited to have that many people in close proximity,” said Owens, owner of Mad Modern at 227 16th Ave. SE, about a block east of the stage. “Worst-case scenario is a lot of exposure.”

Owens said he’ll be selling records at his store, which specializes in vintage furnishings and accessories, through the weekend.

Plans for newbo evolve have, well, evolved. Since the festival was announced, most events requiring paid admission have shifted south. That leaves most of the NewBo neighborhood open to all visitors, whether they hold tickets or not.

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“I feel more encouraged,” said Stephanie Brandenburg, owner of Frond Shop + Studio, at 1101 Third St. SE. “I was concerned originally that they were going to shut down the area. Now they’re working with us.”

“This has been the product of that feedback,” Aaron McCreight, president of newbo evolve sponsor GO Cedar Rapids, said of meetings with neighborhood business owners. “Obviously, we want to work with the neighborhood. We want this to be a crazy success for the neighborhood.”

Tickets are needed to enter newbo evolve’s main stage area, inside checkpoints at Second Street SE just south of 13th Avenue SE, along 16th Avenue SE just west of Third Street SE, and on the 16th Avenue bridge from the Czech Village neighborhood.

“Everywhere else, you don’t need a ticket for anything,” McCreight said. “Just come down and be a part of it.”

Staged street closures begin Sunday when Second Street SE closes south of 16th Avenue SE so crews can begin building the main stage.

Neighborhood access will be further restricted in stages on Wednesday and Friday.

Festival visitors may carry alcoholic drinks in newbo evolve-branded cups as they stroll the streets in the festival area. Most neighborhood bars and restaurants will sell the cups — Slaughter plans to charge $2, what they’ll cost him.

The Temple Bar, a VIP-style lounge for newbo evolve ticket holders — although the public will have access to parts — was moved from the NewBo City Market site to the corner of Third Street and 12th Avenue SE, next to Golden Hammer Collision Center’s branch location.

Across the street, Jeff Melsha plans to draw on friends and volunteers to help staff the Little Bohemia tavern this Friday and Saturday.

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“After 35 years, I’ve got a lot of friends,” said Melsha, who’s renting tables and chairs for the sidewalk in front of the bar, where staff will grill tenderloins, bratwurst and Polish sausage.

“I don’t know who knows what’s going to happen,” Melsha said. “None of us knows.”

The planners’ move left an opening for the NewBo City Market. Its regular Friday Meet Me at the Market event will be a festival-within-a-festival with indie rockers Halfloves from Iowa City and Missouri-based Dawson Hollow. That show, and Saturday’s seven hours of performances by local bands, improvisational and spoken-word artists, and others, will be free.

“We threw something together a couple of weeks ago,” said Scott Kruger, the market’s executive director. “We are a community space, a local space. Most of all, we’re free, and I want to represent that.”

“What Scott is doing at the market is exactly what we have talked to the neighborhood about,” McCreight wrote in an email. “Programming their space.”

Others are doing the same. At Parlor City Pub and Eatery, 1125 Third St. SE, the kitchen will be open “until everybody leaves, or 1:00 (a.m.),” said owner Jon Jelinek. “Whatever’s first.”

“If you’re not ready for it, you’re shortchanging everybody, and NewBo,” Jelinek said. “Any time you have thirty-something-thousand people walking around for a few days, it’s got to be good.”

Jessica LaFayette plans to “amp up” staffing at her Rawlicious vegan lunch spot, which shares Frond’s storefront.

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“I wonder with our regular customers if it becomes a problem,” said LaFayette. “Basically, the festival will pay off in a lot more traffic, but I’m not sure it’s our market.”

At Next Page Books, owner Bart Carithers was more skeptical about what the festival means to a business like his.

“Folks come to have a good time, eat and drink, but not necessarily shop,” Carithers wrote in an email. “It will be interesting to learn what effect three days of districtwide street closures will have on brick-and-mortar retailers.”

Goldfinch Cyclery co-owner Andy Brimeyer doesn’t expect to make any sales. The shop at 208 12th Ave. SE will maintain regular hours.

“I think it’s good for the community to keep our doors open and show what we have to offer,” said Brimeyer.

While newbo evolve officially ends at the 16t Avenue bridge, some Czech Village businesses on the west side of the Cedar River are preparing, too.

“I expect regular trickle-down,” said Lou Thompson, owner of Village Meat Market & Café, 92 16th Ave. SW. She’ll maintain regular hours but will add staff Friday and Saturday.

“When you’re going to have a concert with that many people, they’re going to hang near there, so they’re going to be spying out places.”

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Lion Bridge Brewing Company, 59 16th Ave. SW, has scheduled a full staff to handle any newbo evolve overflow, said Ana McClain, co-owner with her husband, Quinton McClain. Plans include a beer garden performance by Jason Ray Brown on Aug. 5.

Found+Formed, the vintage clothing and artisan accessories store at 65 16th Ave. SW, will maintain its regular hours, according to co-owner Rachel Maker.

“We are going into it with no expectations,” said Maker. “But who really knows?”

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