SOLON— The city recently upgraded the street lights, sidewalks and business entryways to make Main Street more appealing. Mostly successful, Main Street is welcoming… and more handicapped accessible.
With the rise of our automobile culture, combined with an ongoing movement from rural to urban areas, Main Street suffered. What was a stable rural community developed into a place to live away from work in nearby Iowa City, Coralville and Cedar Rapids— a bedroom community.
What’s left on Main Street is a conglomeration of businesses: places to eat and drink, a grocery store, a hardware store, a barber shop, a newspaper, and insurance and financial services offices, all serving the needs of locals. It is typical of this part of Iowa.
The city bought a property on Main Street and is expected to tear down the existing structure to build a city hall. A microbrewery with a newly imported chef from the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley is under construction, scheduled to open in July. It’s not like Main Street is dead, it’s not.
What Main Street isn’t, is a place for a person to open a business with the idea of earning a living from the local population. Do the math. The city had 2,037 people during the 2010 U.S. Census. Add in nearby rural subdivisions outside city limits, and there are maybe another 4,000. In order to generate revenues of $100,000 per year locally, that is about $17 from every man, woman and child in the area. Parting with a 20 dollar bill still means something here, and creating a local, sustainable business seems challenging at best.
The key to success in any business is finding customers. There is no foot traffic to speak of here, so a beginning assumption is that every customer will have to be attracted to a business as a destination. With so many destinations, a Solon business must have a unique offering, and that is the challenge for entrepreneurs. In order to start a business with prospects of success, the work must necessarily begin with two elements that are more important than capitalization: a unique offering and customers willing to come to Main Street.
As we search for a sustainable life on the Iowa prairie, one considers opening a business on Main Street. It is possible to open. The better question is can a local business endure? During the coming months, I will be working on an answer.