NewBo City Market in Cedar Rapids finds its footing, continues to grow

In 2013, NewBo City Market had more than 230,000 visitors

Published: March 2 2014 | 4:00 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:03 am in

When NewBo City Market was first dreamed up, it was meant to be a gathering place — a place for people to find fresh food year round, a place for vendors to find support for their businesses and a place to act as a central location for the emerging New Bohemia district.

“We haven’t strayed too far away from our original plan,” said Kristie Wetjen, executive director of NewBo City Market.

The market, east of downtown Cedar Rapids, made up of 17 permanent merchants as well as guest vendors, opened in October 2012 after the completion of a $6 million capital campaign and a year of construction. Funding for NewBo Market came from a variety of sources, including $3 million in private fundraising, $750,000 from the state’s Community Attraction & Tourism award and $500,000 from the city of Cedar Rapids.

The city is leasing the building to the market for $1 a year until 2016, with an option for the market to buy the site for $1 after that.

Located in a 18,000-square-foot building in the former Quality Chef Foods property at 1100 Third St. SE, NewBo City Market has learned and changed a lot during its first year and a half of operation.

“We’ve had some struggles,” said Wetjen, who took over as executive director in April 2013. “We need to revamp how we go about getting produce,” for example.

Wetjen said a wide variety of produce, especially this winter, is hard to come by even for farmers who grow their goods in hot houses.

Offering more than just space 

But it’s also seen successes. In 2013, NewBo City Market had more than 230,000 visitors, brought it $2.5 million in sales and had 250 guest vendors. Wetjen said it's hard to fully measure the market's success in its first year because it doesn't have many peers

“There are not a lot of models for us to follow,” she said, noting it has compared its metrics with the Milwaukee Public Market, even that comparison has its differences as the Milwaukee market is larger and open seven days a week.

However, market leaders predicted it could do about $2.1 million in sales each year, according to interviews in The Gazette at the time of its opening.

Wetjen also has focused on turning the market into more of a business incubator, providing merchants and vendors with more resources than just a place to do business.

It’s important to offer workshops on marketing, e-commerce, how to create and maintain a website, and how to have social media presence, she said, adding she’s working with Kirkwood Community College and other partners to develop these programs.

“You’re so busy and focused on getting and staying open,” Wetjen said. “In a lot of ways the market is in the same situation as our vendors. We had a year of building, the grand opening and then we had to say, ‘Now, how can we make this work?’”

That re-evaluation has led to some changes, many of which will be apparent in April when the market will be open Thursday through Sunday.

That additional day was added after merchants told Wetjen during a strategic planning meeting that they’d like more hours.

“Many want this to become their full-time job,” she said.

Four "permanent" merchants — Cedar Rapids Popcorn, Chill, Russian Delights and Iowa Soul — left at the end of February. The market is in talks with two to three new merchants to add to the mix while several others will be adding to their product lines.

A living thing

While the market is growing, Wetjen doesn’t believe it will be adding more space or more days in the near future. Instead, it’s more likely that vendors will add hours to the days the market is already open.

“We’re going to expand our offerings because right now we can only display a limited number,” said Lorrie Beaman, owner of Pappardelle’s Pasta, which sells handmade pastas, ravioli, tortellini, sauces and olive oils.

The storefront will be moving into a larger and more prominent location in the market where Beaman will be able to display up to 80 different types of pastas.

“The market is a living thing,” Beaman said. “People are coming and going … . It’s always changing.”

Since the 2008 Floods, the New Bohemia district has undergone a major comeback, with restaurants, bars, entertainment and retails shops popping up.

“The market has brought an influx of new business and draws a large crowd to the area, who will do their shopping and then go to other nearby businesses,” said Jennifer Pruden, the executive director of Czech Village/New Bohemia’s Main Street District, an economic development organization.

Pruden said other businesses and restaurants in the area are also using vendors’ goods, purchasing meats, cheeses, breads and other items to use.

“The neighborhood has a great vibe,” Wejen said. “The neighborhood really does make us stronger and they’ve embraced the market and allowed us to come in. And now there’s new buildings going up and construction.

"I’m not going to say it’s all because of the market, but it certainly adds to the viability of the area.”

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