Business

NewBo merchants optimistic 'slow start' will pick up

Crowds at inaugural 'newbo evolve' thicken with nighttime concerts

Tina Arends of Newton sits on the patio of Little Bohemia with her mother, Kathy Valline, of Nevada, Iowa, before Friday night’s concert begins at the “newbo evolve” festival in Cedar Rapids. Arends won tickets to the festival and a hotel stay through the Jackpot Party of the Iowa Lottery, and brought her mom with her for the weekend. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)
Tina Arends of Newton sits on the patio of Little Bohemia with her mother, Kathy Valline, of Nevada, Iowa, before Friday night’s concert begins at the “newbo evolve” festival in Cedar Rapids. Arends won tickets to the festival and a hotel stay through the Jackpot Party of the Iowa Lottery, and brought her mom with her for the weekend. (Hannah Schroeder/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Bars and restaurants in the New Bohemia District brought in extra help and rented tents and chairs to be ready for crowds at Friday’s start of “newbo evolve.”

The crowds, however, did not thicken until evening when it was getting time for musical acts The Wallflowers and Kelly Clarkson to take the stage — leaving the merchants hopeful that Saturday will be better.

“It’s a slow start,” Parlor City owner Stephanie Jelinek said a little after 5 p.m. Friday. “But we’re optimistic, and we’re ready for the crowds.”

Urgent care icon by Bridget Gahagan and police badge icon by lastspark from the Noun Project. Map by John McGlothlen / The Gazette

The crowd of several thousand that festival organizers had predicted hadn’t seemed to arrive by the time one of the festival’s headline acts — Clarkson — started her set south of most businesses in NewBo.

Just a few blocks from the concert area, Tornadoes Grub and Pub set up a covered outdoor area with space for 400.

The pub staffed up as well, said one of the owners, Thomas Slaughter, 29. About 40 people are scheduled to work each day this weekend.

A slow lunch hour didn’t worry him.

“I’m not scared of being slow,” he said. “I know it’s coming.”

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By 7 p.m., most of the seats still were open on the patio — which had a $2 cover to enter. Slaughter said he was considering cutting the cover charge, but was hopeful a crowd would materialize after the Clarkson concert let out.

“We’re happy, but we’re ready for more,” he said, pointing out that the inside of the restaurant was packed. “We’re hoping for more.”

Across the street at Little Bohemia, owner Jeffrey Melsha said it has been difficult to predict just how many people would be in town for the festival. Newbo evolve organizers have said they expect thousands of visitors each day at this weekend’s inaugural festival, but have not said how many passes they sold.

“There’s a lot of competition out here — there’s a keg on this corner, a keg on that corner, whiskey over there,” Melsha said. “Everybody’s wants a piece of the pie.”

GO Cedar Rapids, the tourism bureau sponsoring the festival, set up pop-up bars along Third Street SE.

SHOPPING AT ‘A HALT’

While restaurants and bars hoped for a rush late Friday evening, some owners of other retail businesses said they experienced slower-than-usual foot traffic all day. They hoped it would pick up this weekend.

Low sales came as a blow for some particularly on Iowa’s two-day tax-free holiday to encourage back-to-school shopping.

In an Instagram post Friday, the Eduskate board shop in Newbo said the lack of customers “might put us out of business.”

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“If they did this any other weekend other than tax free I would have zero problems at all,” the post stated. “ ... The final spear in the eyes is that most of the pop up shops are all in direct competition with local merchants who already exist in NewBo.”

“It’s unfortunate,” said Logan Orcutt, co-owner of Goldfinch Cyclery. “It’s brought foot traffic to a halt for us, at least today.”

Typically, Goldfinch sees “nonstop” traffic as bicyclists ride in for repairs or accessories, Orcutt said. He’s hopeful barriers on the 16th Avenue Bridge, 12th Avenue Bridge and throughout the NewBo neighborhood don’t deter cyclists from riding through.

Next door at Newbo Shops at 208, co-owner Jennifer Morris told of a similar experience.

“It’s the first time, so nobody knew what to expect,” she said. “ ... We’re hoping tomorrow and Sunday will be better.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8330; molly.duffy@thegazette.com

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