Customer service, quality contribute to business longevity, owners say

According to the Iowa City business community, attention to customers and having diverse businesses contribute to downtown businesses thriving.


Charles Peckman, News Reporter

While walking around Iowa City, it is hard not to notice its landmarks — the Englert, Herteen & Stocker Jewelers, and the ever-present (and open) Mesa and Pancheros. But why do some businesses, such as the short-lived East Burlington Street Zombie Burger, seem to fade into obscurity in such a quick manner?

Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Downtown District, said a number of factors can contribute to a business’s longevity.

“Downtown Iowa City is a combined college district and downtown area,” she said. “Our strategy with the Downtown District is to support a diverse mix, and of course, there are ideas that don’t pan out. We want to make sure there is something for everyone.”

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Bird said the opening of new commercial bays, for example, can help expand the district’s business diversity and offerings.

“Because of [new commercial bays,] we’re seeing new businesses pop up,” she said. “But there’s also been businesses such as ‘The Shop’ that have taken over spaces held by longtime Iowa City businesses, which shows how consumers are changing.”

In terms of long-term businesses, Bird said, a prime example is Hands Jewelers, 109 E. Washington St.

“With a store like Hands, we see it changing hands from generation to generation, which adds to the longevity of the business,” she said.

Hands’ fourth-generation owner, Bill Nusser, said attention to detail and customer service have contributed to its 164-year tenure.

“In my opinion, excellent service and excellent merchandise set us apart,” he said. “As a business owner you have to know who your clients are and speak directly to them. That’s one thing I’ve learned, you have to know who shops at your store and who doesn’t, and be thankful for what you’re given.”

Nusser said it is important to keep ever-changing customer needs in mind.

“Something I always tell my staff is, ‘If you want to stay the same, then you have to keep changing.’ People can easily forget about changes as you go along the timeline,” he said. “I think the internet has obviously changed retail and has been a category killer for businesses like ours. If you think about it, none of the three jewelry stores in Iowa City should be open, but we are because of the care we show to our customers.”

Riley Clark, the general manager of a new business venture, Melk Diner & Cereal Bar, said keeping consumer needs in mind is important with new business ventures as well.

“I think what people want right now is a place that breaks the mold a little bit,” Clark said. “Our hours are going to be different, and we’re really striving for a different atmosphere.”

Throughout her time in Iowa City, Clark said, she has worked at a number of different restaurants, all of which lacked an atmosphere conducive for a younger audience, she said.

“A lot of the resturants in Iowa City seem to censor their atmosphere to appeal to a wider, neutral atmosphere,” she said. “We want to have a place where younger people can feel more comfortable.”