Editor’s Note: This feature originated from a Roadtrippers article sponsored by the Iowa Economic Development Authority.
While COVID-19 is altering nearly every aspect of American life, small businesses are being hit especially hard. This is forcing business owners to adjust, but as these three Iowa locals will share, hope is easy to find in tight-knit communities. Roadtrippers, a road-trip planning tool, explored the state to find these inspiring stories of perseverance and ingenuity.
For decades the Bradley family has served the local Black community in Iowa. Dwana Bradley is the editor-in-chief of Urban Experience Magazine, which she calls “the best-kept-secret African American publication.” Her father, Rod Bradley, was the man in charge of the Iowa Bystander, which he said was “the oldest African American publication this side of the Mississippi.”
Rod started Urban Experience Magazine in 2014 and knew the best person to run it was his daughter.
“We started it in our own home,” Dwana said. “The publication highlights education, health, arts and culture, public affairs, spirituality—we cover the whole gamut. We highlight our African American culture but also educate people about what’s going on in Des Moines and the state of Iowa.”
While rethinking what her business’ future looks like in the short-term, Bradley still was able to plan for Juneteenth, the nationally celebrated holiday commemorating the end of slavery. Bradley serves as the general chairperson of Iowa Juneteenth and has transitioned the planned events to a virtual platform.
“[Juneteenth is] something I’m very passionate about,” she said. “It’s a time to celebrate us. We don’t get to do that very often. As an American, I am proud to make sure we elevate Black people and their voices. It’s a more important time than ever for people to speak up and be an ally and support what we’re doing.”
“This magazine will make a huge impact on the state of Iowa,” she said. “There’s nothing else of the kind. It’s why we do what we do.”
Delaney Evers simply couldn’t stay away. The Centerville, Iowa, native moved to Los Angeles when she was 19 to study at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising but found herself reminiscing about her hometown frequently.
In 2018, Evers heard about a job opening back at Honey Creek Resort and felt fate was calling her back to Iowa. There, she plans “destination within reach” weddings for couples from nearby states.
“It has the feel of a destination wedding but you’re not asking people to spend a fortune and fly anywhere,” she said.
Summer of 2020 is certainly an interesting moment to tie the knot, but Honey Creek is doing all they can to ensure every couple’s special day remains special. The resort is taking precautions to keep guests safe, with sanitation stations throughout the property, staff requirements to wear masks and even a 114-page safety handbook.
Evers said couples are being cooperative and are trying to find ways to keep every guest safe, including cutting down on guest lists and embracing technology like Zoom.
“I’ve been working with some of these couples for a year and a half,” said Evers. “They want to proceed while keeping their families safe.
In the small town of Dunlap (population 1,050), Smitty’s Grocery stands as the town’s lone food market, making it as essential as a business can get.
“We are what people call a mom-and-pop store,” said Dale Smith, who opened Smitty’s in 2001. “We’ve been told by our customers that we have the best hamburger around, and we also do specialized cuts of ribeye sandwiches for the local tractor pull and Dunlap’s annual 4 County Fair. These are something you won’t soon forget after trying.”
One change that Smitty’s did incorporate was a free delivery program to serve the town, as well as curbside pickup. Around 15 to 20 volunteers, nicknamed “Smitty’s Angels,” bring groceries to elderly and high-risk residents of Dunlap who have trouble shopping safely.
The community has been quick to support Smitty’s right back. Paula Heffernan, who runs a restaurant in Dunlap with her husband, sewed masks for the grocery store staff. Other Dunlap residents have pitched in by giving masks to vulnerable customers. The town has been doing its part to keep everyone safe and support each other in these unprecedented times. Across the state, from the biggest cities to the smallest towns, you’ll see that’s more common than not.