SL business community rebounding

Friday, August 28, 2020

Despite a few “out of business” signs, the Storm Lake business community has mostly endured a lengthy shutdown and is now seeing recovery.

Storm Lake United’s leader thinks a comeback is underway.

“I would say 90 percent of the businesspeople I talk to are optimistic. Sugar Bowl was just telling me that they have been very busy. The recent Ridiculous Days promoting went very well,” Lee Dutfield told the Pilot-Tribune this week. “Prior to that, things were really slow. When Tyson had their big COVID numbers, you could have shot a cannonball down Lake Avenue and not hit anything.”

According to Dutfield, sales numbers during the late summer Ridiculous Days event were close to those of 2019. “That’s saying a lot, during a pandemic,” he said. “Things have come up quite a ways, and businesses are telling us they are doing their best numbers since Christmas.”

At least those who have survived say so. A few businesses have called it quits during the shutdown, including two ethnic restaurants, though it is hard to know whether closings have been due to COVID or other factors, Dutfield says.

“One thing that is troubling is that the theater is hurting - that’s a place we would hate to lose. Since Storm Lake lost a bowling alley and some other entertainment things over the years, it’s really important to support that theater.”

A few businesses remain closed after five months of COVID-19 concerns, including Better Day Cafe, one of few downtown restaurants. Another downtown business may be looking to sell out, Dutfield said. A handful of stores remain dark due to health concerns under COVID, or are only operating by appointment.

“We have some empty storefronts we need to work on, especially downtown, including a corner spot after a bakery moved recently,’ the SLU leader says. “The former Maurices spot remains open and I’m not aware of anything going in there. They are doing some remodeling next to Daily Apple and I expect to see someone moving in there soon.”

Dutfield says the downtown businesspeople are the first he approaches to determine how reopening is going. “I think its been kind of inconsistent since the governor announced reopening measures, but for the most part things are now encouraging. In terms of overall health for the business community, I think things are picking back up and becoming more steady.”

He praises Storm Lakers for helping to preserve the local restaurants by patronizing them while they have been limited to drive-ups, carry out or curbside service.

“It’s been a case of people helping people in the community.”

During “Welcome Weekend” for Buena Vista University, many of the restaurants got involved, providing - literally - a taste of what is available in Storm Lake. La Juanita’s alone took more than 75 student sample orders as the event went well, Dutfield said.

Many of the downtown stores are requiring masks for entry, with seemingly few issues. “People realize the safety protocol. The stores have put the necessary measures in place and are very clean,” he said.

Storm Lake United continues with special programs to assist, including this week’s Back to School Bash through Saturday, offering prizes. “We’re trying to get people to shop in Storm Lake. It’s always been a good place to shop, and we don’t want to lose any of that.”

Some businesses are finding they need to change the way they do business in the wake of the pandemic. “Some, like Rust’s Western Shed and Sugar Bowl, have launched strong business models online,” Dutfield said.

“Obviously COVID has been hard on all businesses. The Iowa Economic Development grants helped some, and the community pulled together for some help for local business too,” he said.

“The community pulled together and got back open. As scary as that was at the time, it needed to happen, I think.”

The community can’t be content to just retain what it had five months ago when COVID-19 broke out. “We also need to talk about what we can do to bring things here. The relationship between Storm Lake United and the City of Storm Lake is very strong, and we also have the Iowa Lakes Corridor working with us in development. I think that despite all the hardships we are going through, there is a lot of opportunity,” Dutfield said.

The Iowa Rural Summit held online last week sounded the same upbeat theme.

Panel moderator Kylie Miller of the Iowa Lakes Corridor that includes Storm Lake, said that many businesses have survived the shutdown by adapting.

“When COVID-19 hit, they pivoted and innovated to find new ways to create revenue and to help their communities,” Miller said. The opportunities in remote and online working have become obvious virtually overnight - one speaker terming them “the silver lining” of the pandemic.”

Clive-based Alchemy Community Transformations has estimated that 10% to 20% of the American workforce will leave urban areas, as their jobs allow them to telework for the first time. They estimate that perhaps 5 percent have already relocated since that pandemic began, hitting more densely-populated urban areas hard.

Rural communities can take advantage of that exodus, speakers said, but will need what those people are looking for - housing availability, cultural and quality of life amenities, transportation, workforce development. Those are issues Storm Lake and other area cities have grappled with for years.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: