Three local businesses each won $8,000 in “Open 4 Business,” a statewide competition sponsored by the Iowa Economic Development Authority and Main Street Iowa.
Lion Bridge Brewing Co. in Cedar Rapids, Giving Tree Theater in Marion and Perfect Blend Gift Shop and Shortbread Co. in Mount Vernon each won the regional level of the competition. They will go on to compete for a $20,000 prize at the state level Aug. 26, during the Iowa Downtown Summit. The two other businesses to reach that level are Building Grounds in Woodbine and Rockadot in Elkader.
This is the first year for the competition.
“We’re trying to encourage entrepreneurs. This is a great way to connect with them,” said Tina Hoffman, IEDA marketing and communications director. “The overall goal is to develop economic vitality in the Main Street districts.”
To get to the state level of competition, each business first had to compete against others from their Main Street district. The winners of those competitions went on to the regional level in June. The competitions included pitches in front of a panel of judges on how the money would be spent.
Ana McClain, business manager at Lion Bridge, 59 16th Ave. SW, said the Czech Village brewery will use the money to expand and beautify its outdoor area. It plans to create a bocce ball court, landscape under mature shade trees and add permanent patio seating.
The $8,000 is enough to get the brewery started on construction next spring, and if it wins the full $20,000, the brewery hopes to finish the project next summer.
This isn’t the first expansion for Lion Bridge, which opened less than two years ago. The business bought more brewing tanks in the spring to expand production.
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“It’s been amazing; the support from the community and other businesses in Cedar Rapids has been great,” McClain said.
Giving Tree Theater, 752 10th St. in Marion, opened in January. Owners Heather and Richie Akers will use the $8,000 to invest in sound equipment to allow for more live music events, as well as to invest in props and costumes.
Heather Akers said the money also could allow more creative programming.
“We’ve really stuck with traditional titles to build an audience,” she said. “But there’s some really good new content out there that would be risky for a newer company to put on. If we have some more funds, it’s a little bit easier to tolerate that risk.”
The Perfect Blend Gift Shop and Shortbread Co., 224 First St. SW in Mount Vernon, will use the money to expand its baking capacity and invest in a website.
Owner Ann Booth, who runs the business with her daughter, Sarah Fried, said she can’t keep up with demand after 30 years of baking and selling shortbread.
“I have shortbread from Dubuque to Ames,” she said. “We need to enlarge. We’ll be hiring people.”
The money will allow her to buy a bigger mixer and more efficient oven, she said, and adding an online presence hopefully will lead to increased orders.
“It’s pretty exciting,” she said.