It has already been a tough 19 months for small businesses in Uptown Marion needing to outlast a pandemic and the derecho. Unfortunately for Urban Pie pizza restaurant and Scoopski’s Uptown Creamery, ongoing construction coupled with staffing issues and inflation spelled one too many problems to keep their storefronts open.
“We did what we could in limiting hours and trying to staff differently to stay afloat but just couldn’t manage,” said Justin Buck, owner of both Urban Pie and Scoopski’s.
The decision to close comes while Uptown Marion undergoes widespread renovation. The city is constructing several mixed-use buildings for businesses and residents that will connect to a shared plaza, meaning roads are being shut down when restaurant’s margins are already small.
Increased foot traffic and bringing in new businesses is the end goal for the Uptown Marion project, but some existing businesses are feeling the growing pains more acutely than others.
“It’s been a mixed bag,” said Brooke Prouty, program director for Uptown Marion. “We have some businesses that have seen a decrease in walk-in traffic, and then we have some businesses that have some really loyal customers that are going the extra mile to reach those customers. A lot of them are saying that they’re not really seeing much of a dip in business.”
Phase One of construction is expected to be completed, weather pending, by Thanksgiving. Once that is finished, phase two of construction will stretch from Zoe’s Pizza to Zio Johno’s in the spring.
The changes coming to Uptown Marion, although expected to be hugely beneficial in the long-term, is bad timing for businesses struggling to stay afloat.
“It has been a perfect storm of adverse events that have just piled on one after another,” said Mr. Buck. “We are not frustrated with the local government. I know the revitalization of Uptown Marion will be a successful one. I have locations in Downtown Cedar Falls that have seen a huge increase in business because of the exact same project that has come to completion and it has been a great success for the community and all the business around it.”
“The only thing I wish was that this had happened sooner like we were led to believe when we came to town in 2017, he added. “We would have been able to weather the storm. It was just a little too late for us with the current revitalization.”
If there’s a silver lining for the troubles Marion businesses have faced since the pandemic, it’s that owners have found new ways to adapt that should set them up well for the future.
“The pandemic has really helped businesses find new ways to reach customers,” said Ms. Prouty. “We’ve all been aware that this project has been coming for awhile, so we’ve been preaching rainy day funds, building up those marketing avenues and email lists – really setting the businesses up to handle what’s to come since the pandemic was rough.”
Some businesses have utilized the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant or grants that specifically targeted restaurants and bars like the Iowa Restaurant and Bar Relief Grant Program. There have also been programs from the state geared toward employee retention, said Ms. Prouty.
“Shopping local is more important now that ever to make sure that we do keep our locally-owned businesses operated,” she added.
While the Marion locations are closing, Urban Pie and Scoopski’s are still open at their respective Cedar Falls homes. They are actively seeking new locations to open in the spring as well, said Mr. Buck.
“We enjoyed our time in Marion and wish we didn’t have to go,” he said. “This location just wasn’t meant to be. When you miss our pizza or ice cream and you are in Cedar Falls, please stop – we’d love to see you!”
If you’d like to see a Scoopski’s or Urban Pie in your town or city, email firstname.lastname@example.org.