Business

What Corridor businesses are doing for Small Business Saturday

Free parking, gift card programs among incentives to shop locally

People walk along the pedestrian mall in Iowa City on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. With students away for the rest of the seme
People walk along the pedestrian mall in Iowa City on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. With students away for the rest of the semester, Luxe’s owner is optimistic that the pop-up shop will bring her much-needed foot traffic during the holiday season. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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Jan Finlayson vividly remembers the boost her business Luxe Interiors saw last year on Small Business Saturday on the Iowa City Pedestrian Mall.

“Of course we were very lucky to have a home football game that started late,” Finlayson recalled. “It brought us a customer that doesn’t always get to our store.”

There won’t be Hawkeye fans filling the Ped Mall this time. But she still has high expectations for the national shopping holiday that promotes small businesses.

“The weather is forecast to be good, and with the students having gone home, I think area residents are going to want to come out,” Finlayson said.

She’s not the only one with high hopes for the holiday. Economic development groups in the Corridor have Saturday circled for launching initiatives to support small businesses such as Finlayson’s.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, and they need our support,” said Staci Hupp Ballard, Iowa Economic Development Authority spokeswoman.

The Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance launched its “Buy, Give, Grow” campaign this week that’s aimed at supporting local businesses and charities during the holiday season.

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“Businesses that add to our quality of life are in danger,” Doug Neumann, executive director of the Economic Alliance, said in a statement. “Making local purchases and donating locally, especially during the holiday season, will make a difference.”

The Cedar Rapids Downtown District, part of the Economic Alliance, also started Downtown CR Dollars to persuade Cedar Rapidians to shop downtown.

Someone spending $150 at downtown businesses can receive two $25 gift cards from any of the 30 participating businesses.

The Gazette is a media sponsor of both Economic Alliance programs.

Tractors and elves

The city of Iowa City will have free parking in its parking garages Saturday.

Small Business Saturday also will mark the beginning of several Iowa City Downtown District initiatives for the holiday shopping season.

Downtown tractor wagon rides begin Saturday, with a limited capacity and an open-air carriage because of coronavirus.

“That goes about every 15 minutes, and that will be every Saturday (from) this Saturday until Christmas,” said Christopher Hunter, Iowa City Downtown District’s director of special events.

It also will be the first Saturday with Santa available for photos in the Ped Mall, outside the Graduate Hotel. Santa will be wearing a mask, and the line will be socially distanced.

The Downtown Hunt for the Elves scavenger hunt also is set to start Saturday.

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Prairie Lights Books will be open for in-person shopping, at a reduced capacity, for the first time since March 19.

“We have had so many people of all ages wanting to shop for their Christmas gifts,” Prairie Lights co-owner Jan Weissmiller told The Gazette on Wednesday.

Online shopping

Stores are prepared for a more online-centric Small Business Saturday as high coronavirus case numbers keep many people at home.

In August, Marion-based Members Marketplace launched Shop Iowa with funding from the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

The website allows Iowa-based brick-and-mortar stores to sell their products online. Hupp Ballard said the state agency has “marketing efforts underway” to promote the site ahead of Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.

“We are doing more to get the word out about Shop Iowa headed into the holiday season because it’s such a great option for Iowans to shop online and such a good option for businesses to have as well,” Hupp Ballard said.

Hupp Ballard said Shop Iowa so far has 312 participating vendors from 79 of Iowa’s 99 counties.

“Our goal is to get all 99 counties,” she said.

ICDD also has an online marketplace set up for the holidays, with products varying from scarfs to kitchen equipment.

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The Iowa City Downtown District’s Downtown Delivers program also allows residents in Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, West Branch, Tiffin and Solon to receive free delivery from participating retailers.

Deliveries to Cedar Rapids and Marion are available on Fridays.

Customers “can ask if they’re partnering with the Iowa City Downtown District, and we can deliver that for free,” the district’s Christopher said.

Comments: (319) 398-8394; john.steppe@thegazette.com

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