Four women-owned businesses set up shop in central Iowa City

Iowa City Downtown District sees boom of new women-owned businesses from a 2018 initiative.


David Harmantas

Jan Finlayson, the owner of Luxe Interiors stands in her shop in Iowa City on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018.

Andy Mitchell, News Reporter

A recruitment campaign by the Iowa City Downtown District to foster new and growing women-owned businesses has had some success, with four new arrivals in August.

In March 2018, the Downtown District started a targeted phase in an ongoing retention and attraction strategy to develop and grow women-owned businesses in central Iowa City.

Currently, the district has more than 60 women-owned businesses.

During August, in the North Side Marketplace, two independent women-owned businesses partnered under the same roof as newest additions to the local business ecosystem: Luxe Interiors, an interior decorating shop owned by Jan Finlayson, and White Ivy Events, a wedding-planning business owned by Amanda Burrell.

Finlayson has been in business with Luxe Interiors since 2011 and has been in Iowa City since the 1990s. She said Iowa City’s central location to other parts of eastern Iowa has been invaluable.

Burrell, a new graduate from the University of Iowa, started her business at 20, while she was still in school. When she graduated, Burrell said, she initially planned to move to a big city to plan weddings, but she discovered that Iowa City lacked people in her profession. In April, she decided to make Iowa City her first business hub.

“It was easier for me to decide I’m going to be a woman who owns her own business in this community because there was already so many women who were already doing their own thing,” Burrell said.

Finlayson said the marketing that Iowa City does for the Downtown District has been a boon for her business.

“I think you get a lot more exposure being a part of this whole shopping district than I would necessarily anywhere else,” she said.

One of the exposure opportunities Finlayson will use is the Iowa City Gallery Walk.

Finlayson and Burrell met through Finlayson’s husband, Michael, with whom Burrell did her banking. Since then, Finlayson has been both a partner and mentor for Burrell.

Burrell said she felt like everyone wanted her to succeed, and she in turn wants to see success from her peers.

“There are a lot of very smart, strong women in this area who have incredible gifts, and talents, and connections out there,” Finlayson said. “As a smaller community with these locally owned businesses, I think women are great at working together and creating that positive vibe compared to competition in business.”

Downtown District Executive Director Nancy Bird said the state of Iowa lags in the number of women business executives, and the current initiative supports a community in which a movement to grow women-owned businesses exists.

“I would actually like to call out the men of the [Downtown District] that are behind this initiative for recognizing that it takes men as allies to think strategically about the importance of balanced leadership,” Bird said in an email to The Daily Iowan.

The support from male business owners in the Downtown District is not only a moral positive, she said, but a business opportunity as well with more retailers in central Iowa City.

“We have great men and women here who have built businesses and cultural venues that distinguish Iowa City as an authentic and vibrant community,” Bird said in her email.