Business

Local merchants: 'newbo evolve' didn't bring in more business for many

Crowds good for some merchants, but others just pleased they didn't lose money

Jessica LaFayette, owner of Rawlicious at 1101 Third St. SE, pours a cold-pressed collard greens juice into bottles Thursday for a customer at her vegan, gluten-free, raw food cafe in southeast Cedar Rapids. At her cafe, she said, revenue during this month’s “newbo evolve” festival was half what it usually is on a Saturday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Jessica LaFayette, owner of Rawlicious at 1101 Third St. SE, pours a cold-pressed collard greens juice into bottles Thursday for a customer at her vegan, gluten-free, raw food cafe in southeast Cedar Rapids. At her cafe, she said, revenue during this month’s “newbo evolve” festival was half what it usually is on a Saturday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — While widely seen as a musical and cultural accomplishment, this month’s “newbo evolve” festival ran up a $2.3 million loss — and left many merchants stuck with extra merchandise after the crowds they were encouraged to prepare for never materialized.

“I was optimistic,” said Jessica LaFayette, owner of Rawlicious, a vegan cafe at 1101 Third St. SE in New Bohemia. “It was terrible.”

While businesses near the Aug. 3-5 festival’s two areas of focus — NewBo and the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel & Convention Complex — reported varying levels of success, LaFayette’s experience was a common refrain: “We had purchased extra food, we brought in extra staff,” she said. “So we’re out quite a bit of money.”

Revenues, she said, were half what they usually were on a Saturday.

The festival featured musical acts Kelly Clarkson and Maroon 5, as well as celebrity speakers. But it lost the GO Cedar Rapids tourism agency four times what was expected, and two top executives with the agency have since been fired.

Parlor City Pub and Eatery, 1125 Third St. SE, reported that Aug. 4 was the best Saturday its ever had. Little Bohemia, a tavern down the road at 1137 Third St. SE, enjoyed six times the business of a typical Saturday — although even that didn’t live up to predictions, proprietor Jeff Melsha said.

“It did good, compared to a normal Saturday,” Melsha said. “But they told us it was going to be 30,000 people, so we purchased all kinds of beer and food.”

Several other business reported they were satisfied with the festival — not that they did more business because of it, but because they didn’t do worse than usual.

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A Facebook post saved the weekend for EduSkate, according to Nate Sherwood, owner of the skateboard and accessory shop at 208 12th Ave. SE. An Aug. 2 post called on his regular customers to “park on the other side of the river” to avoid newbo evolve’s $10 parking fees. It worked, Sherwood said.

“We had the numbers we needed to meet, so that was nice,” he said. “I think that post had a lot to do with it.”

Designed to boost sales of back-to-school clothes and supplies, the tax-free weekend also generates sales at EduSkate.

“It’s bigger than Black Friday for us,” Sherwood said. “My demographics are mainly 17-to-20-year-olds, so that day I’m saving them $3. None of them are going to want to spend $10 on parking to save $3.”

Business at Goldfinch Cyclery, 208 12th Ave. SE, was “great,” according to co-owner Thaddeus Walters. “It did reduce the walk-in traffic a little bit, but we feel it didn’t hurt us.”

Goldfinch employee Lillian Pope said she took calls from customers worried about parking and street access, but “I don’t think it hurt business too much.”

Lafayette said the street closures seemed a factor for her business.

“Even our regular customers couldn’t get to us,” she said. “If they weren’t going to ‘evolve,’ they just avoided the area.”

“It was kind of comical,” said Sherwood. “The roads were blocked, and the roads were vacant.”

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Owner Jeremy Vega scheduled extra hours at the Analog Vault, 215 11th Ave. SE, but festival goers apparently weren’t looking for vintage vinyl.

“It was bad,” Vega said. “I was skeptically optimistic. Friday was a total bust for us. Saturday was a little better. I was open 23 hours over three days, and it was still a bust.”

Across the river in Czech Village, “we were slow,” said Jennifer Stewart, owner of create exchange, 98 16th Ave. SW.

“Friday and Saturday we were slower than usual,” said Stewart, who is also president of the Czech Village Association. “It certainly wasn’t what we expected.”

“I didn’t do any more business than usual, but I didn’t go negative,” said Lou Thompson, owner of Village Meat Market & Café, 92 16th Ave. SW.

Expected crowds failed to materialize downtown, too, said Andy Franks, owner and general manager of White Star Ale House, 305 Second Ave. SE.

“It probably hurt business slightly,” said Franks. “Friday was definitely slower than average. Saturday was a little bit better before the show, but after the show started it was pretty slow.”

That, despite a shuttle-bus stop at White Star’s corner.

“Parking was downtown and they were shuttling,” Franks said. “It seemed to affect the parking, which is always a concern for downtown businesses.”

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Still, neighborhood entrepreneurs said they’d welcome a similar festival again — if they’re involved in the planning.

“To do it again, they’re going to have to involve small businesses,” said LaFayette. “Or else we’re going to just shut down.”

“I would love it, to work out the kinks and wrap it all the way around Czech Village,” said Thompson.

“I wish they had a little more communication,” said Stewart. “That’s something they can work on for the next time.”

“If they did it right and they listened to the business owners, I think it could work,” Sherwood said.

Sherwood said GO Cedar Rapids ignored neighborhood business owners’ input, beginning with the festival’s date.

“They had community meetings, but basically, all the meetings were to listen to them bragging,” Sherwood said.

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