Business

Retailers see Kingston Village as up and coming, despite pandemic's effects

Freeway access, future developments lead to optimism

A mural dominates the view in a parking lot between Dash Coffee Roasters and Fix Salon (right) in Kingston Village in Ce
A mural dominates the view in a parking lot between Dash Coffee Roasters and Fix Salon (right) in Kingston Village in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Oct. 23, 2020. The area has become a hip spot in town as businesses large and small have moved there since the 2008 flood. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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In a time when many small businesses are shuttering because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Lynette Cavin and two business partners decided it was a good time to do the exact opposite — start a business.

The Studio on Third will open Nov. 2 at 102 Third Ave. SW where a previous fitness studio operated until the owner retired in August. They’ve become the latest of many retailers to choose the Kingston Village neighborhood as their home.

“It’s a very up-and-coming area in Cedar Rapids,” Cavin said.

Kingston, located across the Cedar River from downtown, stretches from the Cedar River on the east to the Sixth Street on the west and from Interstate 380 and First Avenue on the north to Eighth Avenue on the south.

Cavin and her business partners, Angela Decker and Courtney Jasper, are not the only entrepreneur in the west-side neighborhood to be bullish on the future of the neighborhood decimated by flood damage 12 years earlier.

Rebecca Davidson and her husband own Dash Coffee Roasters. When Davidson first looked at Kingston Village, there wasn’t much aside from the upscale Popoli Ristorante, which opened in 2014, a salon, bail bondsman and tattoo parlor.

“We actually didn’t know a lot about Kingston like almost anybody three years ago,” Davidson recalled.

As she looked through the building with almost a decade’s worth of “rot and rust” from the 2008 flood, it would’ve been easy to write off the location. But she saw the potential.

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“We drove up to a dilapidated brick building on the outskirts of downtown and immediately fell in love,” Davidson said.

“I couldn’t say why. It hadn’t been touched since the flood.”

Local Pour, a restaurant serving international street food, opened down the street, in 2018.

Jude Villafana, managing partner of Popoli, said he’s seen the area change dramatically since he moved to Cedar Rapids in 2015.

“I don’t want to say it was a ghost town, but it was nothing like what it is now,” Villafana said.

Now there’s “more hustle and bustle.” He sees more restaurants in the neighborhood as a benefit for Popoli.

“Anything that gets people across the river” is a good thing, he said.

“You wouldn’t think it’s a barrier just because there are so many access points across, but it unfortunately is sometimes.”

He said Dash in particular “has really brought a lot of people into this area.”

Improvements to the Third Avenue bridge and better signs also have helped, Villafana said.

Access

The Kingston Village name of the area dates back to the 19th century, when that area was the town of Kingston. Cedar Rapids annexed it in 1871.

Cedar Rapids City Council officially named the neighborhood Kingston Village in 2013.

One of the major benefits of Kingston is the freeway, retailers said. Two of the main downtown exits on Interstate 380 go into the neighborhood, adding accessibility and visibility.

“We chose Kingston because it’s super easy for our clients to hop off the interstate and pop in here,” Cavin said. “Clients come from all over the metro area, so it’s in a really nice, easy location for them.”

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Davidson said the location brought in commuters from North Liberty and Iowa City who work at Collins Aerospace before the pandemic.

“There’s nothing beating free parking and one turn off the interstate,” Davidson said.

“That’s a major advantage of the neighborhood.”

Retailers also pointed to the proliferation of housing developments in Kingston.

“We’ve had a lot of housing go up over the last three years, which has been fantastic,” Davidson said. “We’ve gotten to know our neighbors really well.”

When Davidson chose the neighborhood, Cedar Rapids was hoping to build a casino development a couple blocks away.

“The potential for all of that extra traffic and another hotel downtown is always good as a coffee shop,” Davidson said. “Everybody wakes up and wants something to drink.”

The casino project since has died, for all appearances, but Davidson is optimistic another development will come in its place. A current proposal would transform the property along First Street SW into a movie theater, family activity center, Big Grove Brewery and ice rink.

“There’s a whole lot of land back there that we knew Cedar Rapids was going to put to use when the time is right.”

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‘Tremendous support’

Companies in the neighborhood have faced a significant hurdle with coronavirus, though.

Before the pandemic, Villafana said Popoli would have 50 or 60 customers on a typical Wednesday night. Now, that’s down to 30 to 35.

“Business dinners Monday through Wednesday were a big chunk of our business,” Villafana said. “When those start coming back, things will be much different and in a good way.”

Popoli also has missed out on business from events at McGrath Amphitheatre and Theatre Cedar Rapids.

Aside from a 243-person wedding on Oct. 10, most weddings have been either postponed or dramatically smaller than before.

“There are a lot of direct and indirect factors that have hurt us,” Villafana said.

While Popoli offers curbside pickup, it’s made a limited impact because it doesn’t “serve pizza and wings and traditional to-go food,” Villafana said.

Popoli reduced costs by being open five days a week instead of six, and it has small events like such as tastings to bring in some money.

A few blocks away, “things were really, really tough” when Dash needed to close for a month at the beginning of the pandemic.

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But Davidson lauded the “tremendous support” from the community since the cafe’s doors reopened.

Pandemic aside, Cavin and her business partners are undaunted with classes starting soon. They’re even looking at how they can expand services compared to previous ownership.

“We have a lot of ideas for the future of ways to expand what we offer here,” Studio on Third partner Decker said.

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

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