Iowa City cafes see boost in customers during midterm period

Local Iowa City cafe managers of High Ground and Prairie Lights said the University of Iowa’s midterm period brings more customers into their stores. Both businesses had temporarily shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Customers+order+at+The+Java+House+located+on+East+Washington+Street+on+Saturday%2C+Feb.+27.

Ayrton Breckenridge

Customers order at The Java House located on East Washington Street on Saturday, Feb. 27.

Meg Doster, News Reporter


Local cafes are bouncing back from the COVID-19 pandemic this midterm season.

When exactly midterm exams fall on the calendar at the University of Iowa vary between courses, but typically they are held from the end of September to the beginning of November. During this time, local coffee shops are seeing more students in their cafes to study.

“In the evening, we do get a lot busier, just because students are staying a lot later and studying at night,” Chris Butner, the manager at Iowa City’s High Ground Cafe, said.

Butner said students don’t just come to High Ground to get a fix of caffeine, but to get something to eat while having a quiet space.

Sam Caster, the manager of the Prairie Lights Cafe, said this time of the year is Prairie Lights Cafe’s busiest time of the year so far.

“It has a lot more to do with occupying a space where you can study,” Caster said. “In a lot of ways that’s primarily what we sell. Coffee and pastries are kind of just a bonus.”

Prairie Lights Cafe was completely closed from February to August 2020. From August 2020 until June 2021, Prairie Lights only did to-go orders, Caster said. The Prairie Lights Cafe is in the Prairie Lights bookstore, and it does not offer outdoor seating.

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The fall 2021 midterm season was the first time in two years that the Prairie Lights Cafe had been available for students to study in, he added.

“I would say that we have bounced back [from the COVID-19 pandemic],” Caster said. “It’s not that busy yet, but it’s definitely feeling a lot more like normal.”

High Ground initially shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, but re-opened in May 2020.

“Things were different because of COVID,” Butner said. “Everything is picked up really quick for us. We were really slow, until students came back earlier this year.”

Both Caster and Butner said they have students working in their respective cafes, but that even with changes in employee scheduling, it’s nothing they can’t handle.

“We’ve been trying to prepare for a week, because with the increase we have been hiring people consistently,” Butner said. “It just keeps increasing and increasing, especially with midterms, where we’re just trying to hire as many people as we can.”

Caster said the first indication midterm season has started is when people come into the cafe and then leave once they see no available seating.

“There’s a couple things you have to do to prepare,” Caster said. “We have a little extra coffee in stock, we have extra milk, cocoa powder, extra pastries, things like that. It’s kind of the same but different, it’s just the same things we’re normally doing but just more of them.”

For the fall 2021 semester, Caster said October is the busiest month of the year for cafes, and midterm studying sessions aren’t the only thing attracting more customers inside.

“It’s because of the cozy weather, like it’s that pumpkin spice weather that everyone talks about and so cafes do really really well that time of year,” Caster said.

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