Not only surviving but THRIVING

New businesses are bringing new energy to the Cedar Rapids Main Street District, as many owners seek to leave 2020 in the rearview mirror.

“This past year has been hard,” said Carol Elliott, owner of Aroma Artisan Pizza, which offers wood-fired pizza at the NewBo City Market, as well as catering. “Those were tough times, so for us, it’s been really exciting to spend the spring thinking about new things and growth. It’s been helpful to put 2020 behind us.”

That growth includes the planned June opening of Luna Gelato & Ice Cream, next to Aroma’s spot in the NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE.

Ms. Elliott said her new business, which will offer Italian ice, sorbetto, gelato and ice cream, will share staffing with Aroma to gain efficiencies while bringing something fresh to Cedar Rapids that has long been popular on the East Coast and elsewhere.

“We’re essentially expanding out,” she said, adding that the departure of Nelson’s Ice Cream from the market left a void for frozen desserts that are popular with customers.

While some products will come from Chicago, others are sourced locally, such as ice cream from Dan & Debbie’s Creamery in Ely and gelato from Capanna Coffee & Gelato in North Liberty.

Local collaborations are a hallmark of businesses in the district, said Monica Vernon, executive director of strategic development for the Czech Village/New Bohemia Main Street District.

“They really play off each other,” Ms. Vernon said, citing several women’s clothing shops and jewelry stores in Czech Village as an example. “You park your car once and it’s a stroll district. It’s that sense of community. We find our retailers and our service people recommend each other.”

Even though side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic linger, the district added 20 businesses during the past year, Executive Director Abby Huff said.

Five businesses left in that time, though not strictly due to the pandemic, Ms. Huff said, resulting in a net gain of 15 and a total of about 200 businesses in the district.

“I get calls about once a week from businesses looking for a spot,” she added.

In addition to Luna, other forthcoming businesses include a stationery/paper boutique called Scribe Stationer, with an Airbnb upstairs in the Hose Company No. 4 building, next to CSPS, 1103 Third St. SE. Scribe, a “little sister” to Nikki Kettelkamp’s SCOUT shop in Marion, is tentatively scheduled to open in August.

One new business just opened in Czech Village and offers old-time appeal.

The Vintage Market & Supply Co. was set to open its doors May 29 in the former Mugshots and Smugglers Wharf building, 95 16th Ave. SW.

Janet Kleopfer, co-owner of the Vintage Market with her son, Chad Kleopfer, allowed customers inside for a sneak peek during Houby Days earlier in May.

An eclectic array of memorabilia, vintage furniture, housewares, jewelry and collectible toys are among items that will be sold, said Ms. Kleopfer, whose sister, Mary Kay McGrath, owns the building.

Ms. Kleopfer noted both she and her son have retail experience and had no problem filling the 4,000-square-foot space.

“We’ve collected for years and years,” she said. “You’ll never know what you’ll find here. We’re excited to be here.”

Another family-owned business years in the making opened this spring.

The Bohemian, a restaurant, music venue and club at 1029 Third St. SE, launched to rave reviews in March and has already attracted a regular following, said owners Michael and Lynette Richards.

“The response has been close to overwhelming,” Mr. Richards said. “We’re just amazed the public has embraced this place so strongly.”

The venue is named in honor of the Bohemian immigrants who settled in Cedar Rapids more than a century ago and the “lower-case” creative artistic, bohemian counterculture.

Customers had plenty of space for social distancing, particularly when The Bohemian first opened before pandemic restrictions were lifted, with three floors where patrons can choose their seating and an outdoor roof garden and atrium.

Housed in the historic Matyk Building, originally used as a dry goods store dating back to 1893, with a newer 1957 addition, the venue overflows with antiques, artwork and memorabilia celebrating art, food, music and community.

“Each wall is a story,” Mr. Richards said.

The couple’s children and grandchildren work in the restaurant alongside hired staff, including chef Josh Lafferty.

Customers place their orders from the chalkboard menu and receive a pager, providing enough time to scope out their favorite place to dine, before getting their meal, with much of the food centering around a large smoker set outside The Bohemian and wine from the First Avenue Wine House.

Tours, first initiated by the couple, are now often led by the patrons themselves and feature more than 100 pieces of artwork covering every wall.

Intentionally absent are the big-screen televisions now ubiquitous in many restaurants and bars.

“People in here, they talk to one another,” Ms. Richards said. “It’s that human connection.”

Rejuvenating the building, which they purchased in 1999, involved hands-on work by the family, Mr. Richards noted, making the true cost of the investment difficult to assess.

Beadboard wall paneling, bar shelving created from a repurposed cabinet from McKinley School, and other details reflect their labor, while tables crafted from reclaimed redwood, an exposed original ceiling and other design elements reflect their commitment to recycling and history.

“You can’t put a price on it,” Mr. Richards said.