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Stroll down Main Street in downtown Solon today, and you’ll see a bakery, a coffee shop, a pizza joint, bars and diners all within close walking distance of each other. For The Eat Shop, a boutique bakery selling cinnamon rolls and bagel bombs, and the Brass Fountain, an American-style restaurant with a fresh twist on soda fountain drinks, these spots opened for business last year. Joining them on the scene by early March will be Bluebird Cafe, an all-day diner that could bring its loyal customers to an increasingly developed Solon streetscape. Cami Rasmussen, the city administrator for Solon, sees the most recent batch of eateries as the latest example of the “Main Street foodie enterprise” that began nearly a decade ago. Years in the making In 2013, the City of Solon, relatively barren of restaurants to call their own after Joensy’s Restaurant permanently closed, welcomed Big Grove Brewery into the fold. With Big Grove on one end of the Main Street district and El Sol Mexican Cuisine on the other, the two establishments acted as “anchors” for a city in transition, said Ms. Rasmussen. A few years later, Red Vespa opened a storefront, at the time as the only Neapolitan style certified pizzeria in Iowa. Good Vibes Cafe followed soon after that. With the addition of The Eat Shop, The Brass Fountain and Bluebird joining the Solon ranks in a city with a population listed just over 3,000 according to the latest census, the city hopes to continue attracting customers from neighboring Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty and Cedar Rapids. The Solon population has grown 48% from 2010 to 2020. “We get a lot of regional visitors,” she explained. “I think the awesome food on Solon Main Street is what’s attracting people, and it keeps them coming back and spreading the word telling others.” Ready for growth? Small business owners aren’t normally excited when new competitors enter the market, but Cheryl Maloney thinks a rising tide will lift all boats. “I think that’s going to be huge for us,” said Ms. Maloney about how Bluebird’s arrival will impact business at The Eat Shop. “Right now, we’re the only people that are open Monday and Tuesday before lunch. So it’ll be nice to have Bluebird as kind of an anchor to bring everybody else in. I just think the more businesses on Main Street, the more reasons people have to come to Solon, and the more all businesses will benefit.” “I think there’s an appetite for more here in Solon,” she added. “I don’t think anybody in Solon wants it to be super commercial and chain-driven like some areas…but I think the city can take on a few more [restaurants and bars]. As expected, the initial reception to Bluebird opening in Solon has been overwhelmingly positive, said Dawn Culley, a part owner of the new restaurant. “We’ve had so many people in North Liberty asking us about it, and they’re excited,” she said. “There are so many people that live out in Solon or live in Cedar Rapids that drive to get us to get to our North Liberty location.” Ms. Rasmussen anticipates Bluebird will have a similar impact as Big Grove did when they opened in Solon. She hopes the restaurant’s large following of customers will check out all the other offerings in the city. While she agrees Bluebird will be a positive addition to the city, Ms. Culley is curious how parking will work as the city gets busier. “There just isn’t a ton of parking,” she said. “I think a lot of people tend to park at Sam’s Market, so I assume that’s where they’ll park for us. But people I’ve talked to about that say that customers are willing to walk several blocks anyway,” as Ms. Culley has seen firsthand during Solon Beef Days. More developments are expected in the future. The North Market Square Project will bring two mixed-use buildings with commercial occupants on the lower level and residential units on the upper level. Another ongoing project is St. Mary’s auditorium, which will have commercial units on the lower level, a hotel on the middle level, and apartments on the upper level. How has the city helped? In the absence of a traditional chamber of commerce, the Solon Economic Development Group works hard to make sure businesses in the area have the resources and support to succeed. The group has been through a leadership change after longtime president Doug Lindner moved away from the community after 20 years. Ms. Rasmussen manages a dual role as city administrator and vice president of the Solon Economic Development Group. She conducts outreach with businesses, particularly in the aftermath of COVID-19, where restaurants needed more assistance than usual. She also ensures all necessary paperwork is completed. “As a city, we agreed to waive the fees on all restaurant cafes for two years, whereas typically there would be a fee to use city sidewalks or parking spaces,” she said. “It’s been great to work with the city,” said Ms. Culley. “They’ve really done a lot to help us. We’ve been able to apply for tax increment financing (TIF) funds from the city to help us out.” Bluebird is using the funds to remodel the inside of their building, update the streetscape, advertise the restaurant, and bring the building up to code by installing bathrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Like any restaurant in 2022, there are universal challenges to overcome, such as supply chain issues and workforce shortages. “I’ve only been in business since August, and the majority of my costs have gone up by 15%,” said Ms. Maloney. “If I had been open a year, my packaging costs would have gone up 50% already.” The Eat Shop is accepting delivery orders now for bulk purchases to make it easier to sell to businesses in the Corridor. “The biggest thing for us is going to be finding and hiring enough adults that can work during the day,” said Ms. Culley. Bluebird Cafe will be keeping the same menu as the North Liberty location and will be open seven days of the week. As new restaurants and developments come to fruition, Ms. Rasmussen is excited to show the region what Solon has to offer. “Solon is open for business,” she said.