Local Businesses: the cornerstone of our communities

With around 21 local businesses permanently closed during the COVID-19 pandemic in Iowa City, the WSS explores how small, local businesses have been affected by the pandemic by examining national statistics and profiling three local businesses.


Courtesy of Downward Dog Website

A picture inside the Downward Dog Yoga studio

Homes fill the landscape, each boasting a garage and fenced in yard, each similar to the last. This description could fit any number of suburbs across the world, ranging from the outskirts of Chicago to the surrounding neighborhoods of Sydney.

Placelessness, a rising phenomenon and a result of globalization, occurs when areas are missing significant places and all appear the same, which causes a lack of attachment from residents. Small businesses help combat placelessness by giving each town distinct character and by unifying communities. However, small businesses are closing right and left at the hands of the COVID-19 pandemic. As these businesses disappear, so does the fabric that often holds communities together.

Around the globe, all spheres of life have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, especially local establishments. Businesses have been forced to modify their business models, let employees go, acquire the proper personal protective equipment, or PPE, temporarily close, and in the worst case scenario, permanently shut down.

Small businesses local to the Iowa City area have not been spared, with around 21 closing throughout the pandemic as of January 2021, according to the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Fortune reports in September of 2020 that over 97,966 businesses have permanently shut down in the pandemic, and Kevin Kuhlman of the National Federation of Independent Business shares, “If economic trends continue at this rate, one in five business owners anticipates they won’t make it until the end of the year.” Businesses lucky enough to remain open are suffering. According to an August 2020 Forbes article limited liability companies have experienced a revenue decline of 90% throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those that have remained open are facing a variety of challenges as they adapt to being a small business in a pandemic.

Fortune reports in September of 2020 that over 97,966 businesses have permanently shut down in the pandemic”

Kelli Slocum owns Downward Dog Yoga in Coralville. “It’s been quite a challenge, and a huge learning experience,” she shares. Downward Dog Yoga, which has been in business since 2009, teaches yoga and fitness classes, along with being home to a teacher training program.

From the onset of the pandemic, they encountered many obstacles from converting once in-person classes to Zoom to determining whether or not their teacher training program should be conducted virtually.

“I started receiving emails from studios … that were closing … so that was a really trying time as a business owner,” Slocum says. It was difficult to instruct beginners virtually, and Slocum debated about offering a virtual teacher training program because she knew online programs may not be as reputable as their in-person counterparts. “I’ve got amazing, loyal students, but just that base alone isn’t enough for my business to continue to have enough revenue to survive,” Slocum shares.

Eventually, she decided to implement an online training program and to ease back into in-person classes. “I’m still practicing the requirements of social distancing and requiring masks. We can accommodate 15 people in the studio, which is a huge change from 60 people,” Slocum details.

Slocum has had to adjust by dropping some classes, and she now teaches the majority of her classes, along with doing the accounting, bookkeeping, and payroll for Downward Dog Yoga. Slocum remarks, “It is always a lot of work. There’s nothing small about small business.”

With Downward Dog Yoga, Slocum hopes to bring her students a sense of normalcy through yoga. “It’s just been so important for people to stay in a routine practice,” she says. “Regular routine is really, really beneficial in just reducing stress and anxiety.”

It is always a lot of work. There’s nothing small about small business.”

— Kelli Slocum

Sidekick Coffee & Books, located on Melrose Avenue in Iowa City, focuses on books for children to young adults and houses a full service coffee bar, complete with pastries and ice cream. Katy Herbold owns Sidekick Coffee & Books. “We’re just here to offer a creative space and to, of course, promote literacy and reading and learning in all different ways,” Herbold says.

The majority of what her business entails, such as reading and enjoying treats in-store, cannot easily be done with masks, so, since the beginning of COVID-19, they have chosen to switch to solely curbside pickup. “We realized there was enough need for it in the community where some people feel only comfortable doing curbside and so we are catering to our customers who are very loyal,” Herbold shares. Additionally, they had to undertake the massive task of digitizing their inventory.

Due to the pandemic, Herbold has to make tough decisions that don’t align with her plan for a green business. “I pride myself on being a very green business. There’s a lot of things that came with COVID that were hygienic measures that were … not necessarily in my business model for staying green.”

Although running a business amid a pandemic presents challenges, Herbold isn’t giving up. “I’m determined to make it because I really love what I do. I hope to be a part of the community for several years to come.”

I’m determined to make it because I really love what I do. I hope to be a part of the community for several years to come.”

— Katy Herbold

Also located on Melrose Avenue in Iowa City, Maggie’s Farm Wood-Fired Pizza has had a brick and mortar store since August of 2017. “We believe we have created a place where people are able to enjoy time with family and friends while also enjoying healthy, well-prepared food,” said manager Roc Kemmerer.

The largest changes Maggie’s Farm Wood-Fired Pizza has implemented is converting to strictly carryout and delivery, along with the wearing of PPE. Due to these adaptations, the pace of food preparation has increased, as customers are getting the entirety of their order at once, instead of eating in courses.

Also, prepared meals offered for pickup on Sunday and Wednesday evenings were introduced. Kemmerer explained, “We thought we could offer a healthy family meal that would help families whose lives have been complicated by COVID.”

When we fail to patronize local businesses, not only do they close, but the thread that holds our community together and makes it special begins to unravel. It is now more imperative than ever to shop locally. Herbold reflects, “I really think [local businesses are] the heart and the soul of the community. We need all these different places and all these different personalities to make Iowa City what it is.”



Support the Local Businesses Mentioned in the Article:

Downward Dog Yoga-
Address: 115 5th St, Coralville, IA 52241
Website: https://downwarddog-yoga.com/
How to support: Downward Dog Yoga can be supported by purchasing gift certificates, sponsoring someone in the teacher training program, or attending a class. Additionally, this April Downward Dog Yoga will host a socially-distanced run in conjunction with an art show to fundraise for Downward Dog.


Sidekick Coffee & Books-
Address: 1310 1/2 Melrose Ave, Iowa City, IA 52246
Website: https://www.sidekickcoffeebooks.com/
How to support: Sidekick Coffee & Books can be supported by visiting their website and ordering books and toys or something from the menu. Also this March 27th and 28th, Sidekick will have a community give back day with West High, where 10% of sales benefit the Booster Club and PTSO.


Maggie’s Farm Wood-Fired Pizza-
Address: 1308 Melrose Ave, Iowa City, IA 52246
Website: http://www.maggiesfarmpizza.com/
How to support: Maggie’s Farm Wood-Fired Pizza can be supported by buying gift certificates and ordering take-out either by phone or through the website.