Cultivate Hope Corner Store says construction causing a 40% drop in sales

Published: Aug. 30, 2022 at 8:26 PM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - The Cultivate Hope Corner Store, which is run by a Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit called Matthew 25, said it’s seeing a 35% to 45% decrease in sales since construction closed roads around the grocery store.

Matthew 25 opened the store in April to increase access to healthy foods in the Time Check neighborhood, which it considered a food desert. The store seeing a drop in sales is one of many examples TV9 has covered where taxpayer-funded construction has slowed down private business.

Mark Elias, who is the Cultivate Hope senior director for Matthew 25, said the construction started and his store saw a decrease in sales immediately. He said he believes the reason is it makes it more difficult for customers to access the store.

“It’s just been harder for them,” Elias said. “They’ve had to, you know, park further away go down the ally and walk through the ditch.”

Jana Bodensteiner, who is Chief Development Officer for Matthew 25, said the nonprofit didn’t expect to make money on the grocery store at first. But, the decrease in sales means it might have to allocate more money to the store’s operational costs unless more people shop at the Cultivate Hope Corner Store

”The only way to fill the gap is with customers or with donors,” Bodensteiner said. “I really can’t think of any other way to fill it.”

She said she isn’t frustrated with the city because the finished project, which adds roundabouts, will increase traffic around the store.

Taxpayer dollars from the city’s penny sales tax program called Paving for Progress are funding the construction project, which an unlisted youtube video from the city of Cedar Rapids shows makes a number of changes to the roads near the store and 1st Avenue West.

Doug Wilson, who is the manager of the Paving for Progress program, said the project’s goal is to make Ellis Boulevard a viable business corridor, reduce car crashes, improve traffic flow and create the potential to create railroad quiet zones.

Philip Platz, who is a spokesperson for the city of Cedar Rapids, the intersection near the store will open within the next three weeks. He said the city understands the problems construction can create for businesses and communicates in advance with people to solve any problems.

“Collaboration with these groups helps ensure disruptions are minimal,” Platz wrote in an email. “City engineering and construction teams work hard to control project timelines and reduce inconveniences associated with construction.”

He also said in this particular situation the city used digital signage to designate a parking lot for people nearby.

In March, the owner of Chophouse Downtown was critical with the city’s communication around a sewer improvement project. He said he was disappointed he didn’t receive a significant advanced notice over the project.

“You know a week or two in advance would allow us to take advantage of all of our platforms so we can notify our customers or provide alternative parking options,” Avila-Burillo said in March.

Jess Johnson, who owns Runt’s Munchies, moved her business after one of the roads leading to her restaurant closed due to a private construction project, which had city support. Her concern in March was the year of not having full access to her restaurant.

“After the last year and a half of all this stuff, I can’t think of a happy medium anymore,” Johnson said in March. “This is getting ridiculous.”

Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust along with a local man gave out gift cards from businesses blocked off from construction in May. Scott Overland, who is a city council member for the city of Cedar Rapids, is listed as the bank’s Vice President of Investments on the city’s website.