An attractive business says ‘come in, spend money’

Plans put in place by Jefferson Matters: Main Street for an Empty Building Tour to be conducted in April have already generated conversation about the state of our downtown buildings.

Just a few weeks ago, the board of directors of Jefferson Matters: Main Street sat down with the Jefferson city council to discuss working more closely together and aligning our priorities.

It was a very productive meeting, and both groups agreed to continue meeting on a quarterly basis.

One point made during the meeting was the poor condition of many of our downtown buildings — particularly the three-story brick structure at the northeast corner of State and Chestnut (200 E. State).

Since that meeting, this building has become somewhat of a flashpoint in the community.

It was prominently featured in a front-page article in last week’s Herald, “Two Years In, Main Street Preservation Slow.”

The article brought out many good points about our Empty Building Tour and the city’s efforts to take control of the situation at 200 E. State, where squatters have moved into one of two empty apartments in the building’s upper story.

Developing a strong public-private partnership is key to building a successful Main Street program.

Using the right language to speak with the private side is integral.

Downtown property owners have to be convinced that it makes business sense to restore and preserve their buildings.

Focusing on the pure aesthetics of a restored building facade is not going to cut it.

Business owners are faced with practical matters.

One downtown business owner explained to me that with exorbitantly high heating costs during our long Iowa winters, a building front covered with siding was the most practical approach for containing those costs.

Other businesses would like to make physical improvements but are financially unable to do so. I fret and worry alongside them when I visit their stores and businesses and see the leaky roofs and chipped paint.

They are just trying to move ahead, day by day.
That’s why Jefferson Matters: Main Street endeavors to not just discuss and promote improved facades, but also to focus on building better businesses.

Our efforts are focused on making the entire downtown an attractive destination for its residents’ every need — professional services like lawyers and accountants, stores with products and supplies, personal services like hair stylists and barbers, auto supplies and repairs, and a variety of coffee shops and restaurants.

Shuttered, unkempt buildings are a turnoff.

And what does that say to shoppers and customers from beyond Jefferson, who might not have the personal relationship with the business and store owners?

A business with an attractive facade says “come in, spend money.”

A building that has enhanced its various architectural features makes its own statement of invitation.

People are drawn to buildings with a “back story.” One of our newest businesses, Greene Bean Coffee, did just that by putting together a flip book of its building’s past history — for many years a downtown bank.

Customers can sip coffee in this restored building and imagine what it was like full of tellers, farmers and merchants in Jefferson in the early 1900s.

The new Wild Rose casino on the north edge of town is a real “calling card” for bringing more visitors to Jefferson. We need to take that momentum and spread it through the downtown district — especially in the block of storefronts facing the courthouse that make up our National Historic district.

Jefferson Matters has had an impact, and we have had inquiries from interested business owners.

But their initial enthusiasm for opening or relocating a business in one of our vacant buildings is soon dampened by the hard, practical matters — the cost of the building and all the necessary structural improvements. It’s pure “sticker shock.”

Our tour event will lessen that sticker shock by showcasing the empty buildings — warts and all.

But rather than have visitors leave dismayed, we will provide them the basic cost estimates for whatever repairs are needed — new roof, plumbing, electrical wiring, missing stairwells, watery basements, mold or asbestos removal.

We will take the mystery out of finding local tradesmen who can do carpentry work, install windows, fix the plumbing and install new wiring.

We will gather pertinent financial resources for prospects to help streamline the daunting process of available grants and their criteria, local bank contacts, small business support and business plan development.

Jefferson Matters is even creating a new business incentive brochure offering discounts on local service for new business owners to show that we want to further the partnership of Main Street-business owner from the very beginning.

We will show how historical preservation is actually rehabilitation of a building’s structural “bones.” National Main Street Center has research of proven cases from coast to coast of how restoring an existing building is far more cost effective than building new.

It’s clear to see the reasoning behind our Empty Building Tour.

We want to attract the “doing it my way” entrepreneurs, local real estate investors, and major developers in nearby Metro Des Moines.

Our wonderful inventory of historic structures has potential to be transformed into successful storefront businesses and profit-generating upper-story apartments attracting quality tenants.

Contact Alan Robinson, program director, Jefferson Matters: Main Street, at 515-386-3585 or

Contact Us

Jefferson Bee & Herald
Address: 200 N. Wilson St.
Jefferson, IA 50129

Phone:(515) 386-4161