Opinion | Wild Bill’s workshop should have tried to remain a coffee shop

Wild Bill’s provided much needed opportunities for people with disabilities.


Grace Smith

Wild Bill’s Workshop is seen on Aug. 23, 2021 on North Hall at the University of Iowa. (Grace Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Ally Pronina, Opinions Columnist


The University of Iowa school of social work should have considered other methods to save Wild Bill’s Coffee shop before replacing it with Wild Bill’s Workshop. 

Wild Bill’s coffee shop was a project of the UI School of Social Work, which provided employment opportunities to people with disabilities and gave students in the social work program a chance to interact with them. 

It was created by Bill Sackter, who followed a friend to the UI School of Social Work after spending 44 years in a Minnesota mental institution, and started the coffee shop. 

The UI School of Social Work continues to honor Sackter’s legacy and include people with disabilities in the school’s social justice advocacy. However, the coffee shop closed down during the pandemic. 

In an email to The Daily Iowan, Jen Knights, marketing and community engagement specialist at the UI school of social work, said the number of coffee shops in Iowa City led to Wild Bill’s not having many customers. 

Instead, the UI School of Social Work will replace it with Wild Bill’s Workshop. The workshop will be a place for social work students to have meetings about social justice and create multimedia pieces about social justice issues. 

Considering the negative impact the pandemic has had on employment for people with disabilities, the UI School of Social Work should have let Wild Bill’s continue functioning as a coffee shop. 

As of August 2020, 1 in 5 people with disabilities have lost their jobs during the pandemic, compared to 1 in 7 in the general population according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Since March 2020, more than 1 million workers with disabilities have lost their jobs. 

While the lack of customers may have caused financial struggle, Wild Bill’s could have increased the number of customers through more advertisement and promotion, instead indefinitely closing the shop. 

The university could have looked at ways to better advertise the shop or move its location to the Iowa Memorial Union. If it were in the IMU, which gets more traffic than the social work building, Wild Bill’s could have brought in more customers. 

What are the people who used to work for Wild Bill’s going to do now that it is not functioning as a coffee shop anymore? Chances are, they were looking forward to coming back to work after the pandemic and having everything return to normal. Now, they have lost their jobs. 

While the coffee shop’s replacement, Wild Bill’s Workshop, aims to teach social work students social justice, closing the shop is taking away employment opportunities for people with disabilities and who are struggling with unemployment due to the pandemic. 

Wild Bill’s is more than just a coffee shop for the people who were employed there – and the workshop and coffee shop are not mutually exclusive. 

While the workshop is a good initiative, the UI is losing a valuable resource for people with disabilities and social work students. 

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.