Downtown District works to bring in more female-run businesses

Karen+Kubby%2C+owner+of+Beadology%2C+poses+for+a+portrait+behind+the+counter+in+her+store+in+Iowa+City+on+Saturday%2C+March+31%2C+2018.+%28Matthew+Finley%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
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Downtown District works to bring in more female-run businesses

Karen Kubby, owner of Beadology, poses for a portrait behind the counter in her store in Iowa City on Saturday, March 31, 2018. (Matthew Finley/The Daily Iowan)

Karen Kubby, owner of Beadology, poses for a portrait behind the counter in her store in Iowa City on Saturday, March 31, 2018. (Matthew Finley/The Daily Iowan)

Karen Kubby, owner of Beadology, poses for a portrait behind the counter in her store in Iowa City on Saturday, March 31, 2018. (Matthew Finley/The Daily Iowan)

Karen Kubby, owner of Beadology, poses for a portrait behind the counter in her store in Iowa City on Saturday, March 31, 2018. (Matthew Finley/The Daily Iowan)

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Downtown Iowa City is working to create an environment that reflects the rest of the world, which means bringing in more female entrepreneurs.

In December 2014, the Iowa City Downtown District developed a retail strategy to improve the shopping and dining experience in the district, and it is working on refining that strategy to invite more women downtown.

Women currently own and operate 59 downtown businesses, which is only around 20 percent of the total market, said Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird. She said women may work differently than men in business, so it’s important that the district is working to welcome everyone.

“Women probably work a little bit differently, and that’s part of the point of our campaign and the refinements to our retail strategy, to make sure we’re doing what we can to make sure we’re inviting all businesses downtown,” she said.

One way the district is encouraging more new business is identifying all the open spaces downtown so entrepreneurs can easily find out what places are available to open a business.

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The Downtown District website has an interactive map, along with pictures of storefronts, some basic information about the properties, and contact information for interest parties.

“Often, people don’t even think of downtown because they know we have a low vacancy rate currently, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t spaces available for the right tenant,” Bird said.

She is also backed putting up more signs downtown so people can more easily identify businesses.

Female-owned businesses in downtown are also doing their part to reach more women entrepreneurs. Michelle Galvin, the owner of Velvet Coat, said she is collaborating with Cedar Rapids designer Emily Carlson to bring her clothes into the store.

Beadology Iowa owner Karen Kubby is doing something similar with a previously empty back area in her store. The space, which she compared to a mini-incubator, is open for another woman to open a business of her own. Over the Moon Metalworking is currently in the space.

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“It makes an affordable space downtown for a woman trying to get her business up,” she said.

Bird, Galvin, and Kubby all noted female business owners lean more toward collaboration instead of competition, and cooperation has helped many of the businesses downtown.

“You’re not alone down here,” Galvin said. “You have a lot of people to bounce ideas off of and people willing to share with you what’s worked for them and what hasn’t … I think it’s shown that everybody wins with that.”

In her experience, Bird said, women tend to research things more and aren’t the first to say they know everything, so she wants to make sure female entrepreneurs know that there are people downtown who will be there to help if needed, and they’re welcome no matter what.

“I think that with women, research shows that they need to be more kind of invited to the table, so I think that’s something we’re trying to work on,” Galvin said.

Galvin said bringing more women downtown won’t just help them, it will also cultivate a community of downtown business owners who better reflects the real world.

“I think giving those opportunities, making it look more like the real world, is important and I think it just gives a depth and a different perspective to business,” she said.