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Downtown Cedar Rapids businesses feeling hopeful with return of in-person events, and support of downtown dollars program

Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 6:16 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The doors of Coffee Emporium in downtown Cedar Rapids are starting to swing open more often.

“Last week was busy here. It’s been picking up ever since, just slowly,” Chelsea Beglau, an assistant manager at the shop, said.

Part of that is due to the return of in-person events, like the Cedar Rapids Farmers Market.

“We are open from 7:00 to Noon those days, so that brings a lot of people in. The first farmers market we did was very busy,” Beglau said.

Another helping hand has been the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance’s downtown dollars program started to help struggling businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.

“We sent out quite a few gift cards for it, and we have seen a lot of those come back in,” Beglau said.

Customers collect receipts from participating businesses and once they spend $150, they got a free gift card. More than 500 people participated, and they spent $175,000 in downtown businesses.

”We knew it wasn’t going to be the savior, but every little bit helps,” Jesse Thoeming, the Downtown District’s executive director, said.

Thoeming added that they’re extending the program to keep the momentum going.

“All of them liked the program for a lot of different reasons. One, it was an incentive program, but two it wasn’t a lift on their end,” Thoeming said.

Although big events bring in a surge of shoppers, it’s the consistent lunch crowd that sustains many of these businesses. However, not all large employers have brought their workers back downtown.

“But, once we’re back to 80 or 90% of what was down here before, that’s when we really start to get back rolling,” Thoeming said.

Thoeming said even with some companies making hybrid models a permanent decision, he still expects high numbers to return on-site.

“At the end of the day especially younger staff, they need that mentorship and that camaraderie and the team ability to have a strong workplace culture,” Thoeming said.

The CR Downtown Dollars program will continue through June 30.

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