Downtown Iowa City’s hidden gems

The West Side Story staffers reveal shops in downtown Iowa City that deserve more attention than they have already.

Haunted Bookshop

Even though you can’t go inside, the Haunted Bookshop has an amazing selection of books and toys on its website. (Lucybelle Gerlieb)

Founded in: 1978

Hours: As of Feb. 7, the Haunted Bookshop is no longer allowing people to come inside to shop due to COVID exposure risks.

Products: The Haunted Bookshop offers new and used books, stuffed animals, toys and book repair services.

Address: 219 N Gilbert St, Iowa City, IA

Opinions: The Haunted Bookshop is such a magical place! They have a large variety of books and toys. The store is very quaint, cozy, and inviting in a way that makes you want to spend hours scanning the shelves! And even though you can no longer go inside, their website makes it easy to find the books or other goodies you are looking for.

Mesa Pizza

Mesa Pizza’s interior has changed in recent months, but that doesn’t mean the environment is any less welcoming. (Lucybelle Gerlieb)

Founded in: 2006

Hours: 11 AM-2 AM

Products: Mesa Pizza sells pizza in large single slices. They serve unique pizzas, including a wide variety of vegetarian options and a fan favorite of mac and cheese pizza.

Address: 114 E Washington St, Iowa City, IA

Opinions: Mesa pizza is such a unique pizza shop! The atmosphere is very minimalistic yet inviting. The pizzas are one-of-a-kind and their jumbo slices are perfect if you are looking for a quick lunch.

Record Collector

This blast from the past might seem small from the out isn’t really that big but if you can get your hands on a record player I’m sure you’ll enjoy your experience especially since the people who work at Record Collector are great. (Lucybelle Gerlieb)

Founded in: 1980

Hours: 10 AM-7 PM

Busiest Day: Saturday, new releases on Fridays

Products: Record Collector sells records from a wide variety of musical artists and genres.

Address: 116 S Linn St, Iowa City, IA

Opinions: This shop is absolutely fantastic! We are really lucky that they never went out of business since record players are making a huge comeback. They have almost every artist you can think of, including old and new artists. The environment is very retro and welcoming!

Bought from Kirk Walter in 2017, Robert Larson and Allison Witzke currently own Record Collector. “We were both long-time employees of Kirk’s who had worked for him at Record Collector for over a decade before his passing in autumn of 2017. Kirk owned and operated the store since 1982,” Larson said. When they first took their jobs at Record Collector, they thought it was a very good fit since they were really into music and were already long-time customers at the shop. They thought that it was a big responsibility to run the shop but they were glad to do it to keep Kirk’s legacy alive. “[Record Collector is] very important to us. On a personal level, it sometimes feels like Record Collector is one of the last vestiges of the weird and cool downtown Iowa City that I grew up with.”


Sweets and Treats

The Sycamore Mall is notorious for being generally deserted but, Sweets and Treats still receives a ton of traffic from customers. (Lucybelle Gerlieb)

Founded in: 1983

Hours: 12:30 PM-6 PM

Busiest Day: Saturday

Products: Sweets and Treats sells chocolates, gummy candies, meringue cookies, bonbons, and many more varieties of candy.

Address: 201 S Clinton St, Iowa City, IA

Opinions: Sweets and Treats is a great one-stop-shop for gifts for birthdays and holidays. They have almost any candy you can think of! And the location is a great spot in the Old Capitol Mall by many other fantastic businesses.

Monique Holtkamp is the current owner of Sweets and Treats. She bought the shop from the previous owner who still acts as a mentor to her. The previous owner ran the store with his family and her family is currently pretty involved in the shop so she sees the store as a family business. Monique grew up in Iowa and she used to shop at Sweets and Treats so she has a strong connection to the store. She sees the store as a staple of Iowa City and she stated in the interview, “I remember being excited when I bought it because I felt like I had bought a little piece of Iowa City.”

Marco’s Grilled Cheese

Going from a grilled cheese stand to a restaurant was a big step towards more success for Marco’s. (Lucybelle Gerlieb)

Founded in: 2000

Hours: 11 AM-2 AM

Products: Marco’s Grilled Cheese sells much more than grilled cheese, such as a wide variety of sandwiches and soups. They also have gyros, quesadillas, tacos, hot dogs, burgers, and more!

Address: 117 N Linn St, Iowa City, IA

Opinions: Marco’s Grilled Cheese is a great place to go with a group of friends. The wide selection ensures that there is something for everyone! The fun touches and colors inside the store create an inviting atmosphere.



Even though the photo makes the shop look pretty small Artifacts is actually really large on the inside since they take up two full buildings and they sure do use the space effectively. (Lucybelle Gerlieb)

Founded in: 1995

Hours: 10 AM-5 PM

Busiest Day: Saturday

Products: Artifacts sells unique antiques, quilts, jewelry, old postcards, furniture and decor.

Address: 331 E Market St, Iowa City, IA

Opinions: I love this store so much! They have an absolutely amazing jewelry collection and their furniture has me wishing I had more space and money. Artifacts also has a ton of vintage toys and clothes, including adorable vintage handkerchiefs.

Todd Thelen is the original owner of Artifacts, a vintage consignment store in downtown Iowa City. The store was founded in 1995 when Thelen realized his side hustle of buying and selling antiques could become a full-time gig. “Our motto is no boring stuff allowed… the weirder the better,” said Thelen. “I’ve owned [the store] since 2003. I’ve been buying and selling antiques since 1991 When I was in grad school.” Thelen says that the busiest time of the week is definitely Saturday. “At the end of 2020, we expanded into the space next door, so we added 3500 square feet.” With the larger space, the store can hold more merchandise, so you’re sure to find something you’ll love!


Beno’s Flowers and Gifts

Despite the simple appearance of the outside of the shop, the inside is aesthetically pleasing and everyone was very kind. (Lucybelle Gerlieb)

Founded in: 2019

Hours: 11 AM-5 PM

Busiest Day: Saturday, Sunday, and Monday

Products: Beno’s Flowers and Gifts sells plants, jewelry, pins, trinkets and more.

Address: 107 E Iowa Ave, Iowa City, IA

Opinions: Beno’s Flowers and Gifts has amazing, healthy plants for anyone looking to spice up their room. They have such awesome stickers, jewelry, and plant accessories that you’ll wish you had it all!

Benito Ocampo is one of the owners of Beno’s Flowers and Gifts in downtown Iowa City. When asked why he wanted to start a business, Ocampo said “I think I [have always had] a love for flowers… I used to have a business back when I was in Mexico.” Ocampo came to Iowa about six years ago. He loves helping customers and interacting with them and his staff. “[The business is] really fun. I really love what I’m doing here and it just means everything. I love that my customers come to the store and feel welcome and feel happy when they’re here.” According to Ocampo, the busiest days in the shop heavily depend on the season. Recently, he has noticed a jump in customers on Mondays in addition to Fridays and Saturdays.


Om: Gifts for Body and Soul

Catching Om on a busy day made for a great time to explore the shop and discovering this gem. (Lucybelle Gerlieb)

Founded in: 2003

Hours: 10 AM-6 PM

Product: Om Gifts for Body and Soul sells crystals, dreamcatchers, plants, essential oils, jewelry, books, clothes, incense, and other things for the body and soul

Address: 105 S Linn St, Iowa City, IA

Opinions: Om is probably one of my favorite on the list. The variety in merchandise is fantastic, and the store always has such a peaceful vibe that makes you want to spend the whole day inside. They also have so many fascinating crystals and gemstones.