Local Restaurants Battle Big Chains Downtown Cedar Rapids
By Nadia Crow, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Family owned businesses say big chains are bumping them out of downtown Cedar Rapids. Within the last few months, several new restaurants have opened in the downtown area. For most people, that means many more food options. But some businesses say the over-saturated market is chopping down on their profits.
It's the old tale of the big box store eating up the little guy. It's been a rollercoaster for these small cafes and delis.
After the flood of 2008, there were hardly any downtown food options. Now, everyone's anticipating large crowds from the newly renovated paramount and soon-to-open convention center. But until then, the ever growing number of restaurants fights over the small crowds.
For eleven years now, Little King Deli Co-Owner Barbara Dauenbaugh gets ready for the lunch crowd.
“Our customer base almost tripled from where we were three doors down it was unbelievable,” said Little King Deli Co-Owner Barbara Dauenbaugh.
That was the height of the business before the flood of 2008. They came back, right along with Austin Blues BBQ in the Armstrong Building just around the corner.
“When I came down here it was locally owned locally operated restaurants that were down here and now the franchises are down here,” said Austin Blues BBQ Owner Barb Hartgrave.
Barb Hartgrave says franchises like Jimmy Johns and Milios are taking away their customer base and ultimately threatening their livelihood.
“We have no corporate backing it's just us ourselves having to pay for everything out of our pocket,” said Hartgrave.
“When they first opened up the first six weeks our business was cut in half. We would go from x amount of business to half and then it recovered and then Milio’s opened up and our business has gone way downhill again,” said Dauenbaugh.
So these mom and pop shops hope loyal customers like Kjas Long still support them.
“The quality of the big chains isn't usually up to the quality of the local establishments,” said customer Kjas Long.
Long says the solution is simple, bring in more retail stores.
“It would be nice if we could have more retail 30 years ago I remember when I lived in waterloo we used to come to shop downtown in Cedar Rapids because it was a shopping area,” said Long.
Hartgrave says she's trying a new marketing push: catering. She hopes to attract more people who don't live in walking distance of the Armstrong Building. Dauenbaugh hopes this is just another obstacle she'll overcome like the flood and other hard times.
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