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8 Iowa Cities with Thriving Local Businesses
8 Iowa Cities with Thriving Local Businesses

Local and independently owned businesses form the backbone of every small town’s economy. While Iowa is home to bustling cities like Des Moines that are home to thriving industries and multinational corporations, its lesser-known destinations are a testament to ambitious entrepreneurial spirit. Across the Hawkeye State, creative and commercial hubs have sprung up in the friendliest small communities.

Away from competition from big chains, these places foster hometown pride by supporting a number of locally focused businesses. Visitors to these Iowa cities find vibrant downtowns filled with diverse shops, artisans, studios and restaurants that cultivate unique Midwestern flavors from the ground up. By becoming patrons of these entrepreneurial hubs, tourists directly support small town livelihoods and discover what drives each destination’s economy through goods, services and hospitality.

Pella

Windmill in the Dutch village of Pella in Iowa, USA.
Windmill in the Dutch village of Pella in Iowa, USA.

Founded by settlers who migrated from the Netherlands, this charming Dutch village southeast of Des Moines has deep European roots and influences that locals have used to create successful homegrown businesses throughout the community. Jaarsma Bakery on Franklin Street makes authentic Dutch pastries from scratch using traditional recipes. The family-owned eatery has been a Pella staple since its founding in 1898. Guests who enjoy sampling locally made wines can stop by the Wijn Shop, which features Iowa-area varietals.

Casual shoppers will find a quaint shopping experience at HallTree Boutique, which specializes in unique women’s clothing and offers friendly service. Pella is also home to several local markets, such as the Dutch Market and the Dutch Meat Market, where growers and artisans sell fresh produce, meats, baked goods and handmade crafts.

Centerville

Centerville, Iowa. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centerville,_Iowa By Joanna Poe from Munith, MI, USA – Centerville Town Square, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33159796
Centerville, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By Joanna Poe from Munith, MI, US – Centerville Town Square, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikipedia

Although this lovely Appanoose County community is better known as a center for recreational hunting, it offers a rich cultural diversity. A coal mining boom in the early 20th century attracted numerous European immigrants, and their descendants retain these cultural influences, which are reflected in the various businesses downtown. The culinary scene is a great reference point, and George & Nick’s Pizza & Steakhouse has been operating in Centerville since 1968. This downtown eatery prepares sumptuous Greek-style pizzas that have brought it years of success. The town has several antique shops, including Mystique Vintage & Unique and Forbush ARTiques, where tourists can find unique crafts and other valuable collectibles.

Thanks to the Gypsy Quarter, shoppers can look forward to a remarkable shopping experience in Centerville. This exciting boutique sells women’s, men’s and children’s clothing on three floors, providing a relaxing retail therapy experience.

Newton

Newton, Iowa. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton,_Iowa By Gtkn – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59905022
Newton, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By Gtkn – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia

Newton was once home to a Fortune 500 company, the Maytag Corporation, which was founded in the city in 1893. Although the brand moved its headquarters to Michigan, the city retains its entrepreneurial prowess. The Iowa Speedway draws hordes of racing enthusiasts to the city, allowing local businesses to capitalize on the investment potential that comes with it. This has led to successful local businesses like Maytag Dairy Farms, whose award-winning blue cheese is sold nationwide. The downtown restaurant scene offers diverse flavors to please every palate. Los Amigos stands out for its authentic Mexican dishes, from tacos to burritos.

Exploring Newton’s downtown area also gives you the opportunity to find nice gifts and souvenirs at the various shops in the area. For example, Nancy’s Canned Creations sells unique crafts that you can also find at the Center for Arts & Artists.

Decorah

Main building of the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum on the main street of the town in Iowa. Photo credit: Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com
Main building of the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum on the main street of the town in Iowa. Photo credit: Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com

Decorah’s strategic location at the intersection of U.S. Route 52 and State Highway 9 brings a lot of traffic to town, bringing new potential customers to the local business community on a daily basis. The town has a rich brewery scene, and guests can sample homemade crafts at local breweries like Pulpit Rock Brewing Company and Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. Meanwhile, Gossling Cabinetry Showroom is a thriving family-owned business that provides Decorah residents with custom cabinetry for their homes.

Numerous gift shops and antique stores in downtown Decorah promise souvenir collectors beautiful pieces. Some nice shops to stop by are Sparrow’s Candles & Gifts and Heavenly Made Gifts & The Gnome Store.

Storm Sea

Storm Lake, Iowa. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Storm_Lake,_Iowa By Calvin Beale - USDA photo on this website, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21978883
Storm Lake, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By Calvin Beale – USDA photo on this website, Public Domain, Wikipedia

Home to Buena Vista University, this historic college town impressively blends new and old, combining rustic charm with urban delights. A young student population has shaped a vibrant entertainment scene in Storm Lake that includes a number of pubs and taverns. Brewsters and Mo’s are local hotspots to spend a good time after work. Storm Lake Bakery is also the go-to place for fresh pastries, breads, donuts and cakes. The award-winning bakery delights locals and visitors alike with its incredible selection of baked goods.

Finally, there is a wide range of boutiques for the large student population that likes to keep up with the latest fashion trends. Some of the most famous outlets in the city include Buckle and Celeste Fashion.

Knoxville

Knoxville, Iowa. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knoxville,_Iowa By en:User:Cburnett – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2068846
Knoxville, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By en:User:Cburnett – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

Knoxville’s rich racing tradition makes it one of the best cities in Iowa for auto racing enthusiasts. It is home to the Knoxville Raceway, which draws fans with a thirst for beer to the city. This has allowed local brewmasters to be quite successful in their business. Several outlets and thrift stores in the city offer tourists a casual shopping experience that won’t break the bank. Raiment Fashion is an excellent option for those looking for the trendiest women’s clothing, while the Well Thrift Store caters to those on a budget.

Every Saturday and Tuesday, the Knoxville Iowa Farmers Market brings the city to life as local producers and artisans display their wares for interested shoppers. The atmosphere is always family-friendly, with baked goods, fresh produce and traditional crafts.

Mount Pleasant

Mt. Pleasant is a small community in southern Iowa.
Mt. Pleasant is a small community in southern Iowa.

This pleasant Henry County community boasts a rich history dating back to its founding by Presley Saunders in 1835. It has nurtured local businessmen and local merchants who have passed on their everlasting entrepreneurial spirit to the next generation. Today, you’ll find renowned establishments like Airport Road Vineyard & Winery, which delight customers with tastings of award-winning local wines. With so much history in the air, it’s no surprise that Mount Pleasant is home to several antique shops. Those with a penchant for vintage souvenirs can stop by Vintage Raven or Jefferson Antique Mall to check out the displays.

Finally, visitors can also enjoy a small-town shopping experience at Sorta Sweet Boutique, which specializes in cute clothing accessories for all shapes and sizes. It’s also an opportunity to support a local woman-owned business.

Grinnell

Grinnell, Iowa. In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grinnell,_Iowa By Aaron Tait from San Francisco, USA – Grinnell, IA, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11221883
Grinnell, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By Aaron Tait from San Francisco, USA – Grinnell, IA, CC BY 2.0, Wikipedia

Grinnell is a historic town with a charming downtown district that is home to beautiful old-world architecture and period structures. These buildings also house local businesses that reflect the city’s culture and heritage. For example, Grinnell Craft Brewhouse is a bustling craft brewery scene where visitors can sample fresh sour beers and ales. You’ll also find a selection of family-run coffee shops, cafes and restaurants that promise a delightful dining experience. Some popular options known for their quality service and family-friendly atmosphere include Hometown Heroes and Saints Rest Coffee House.

Grinnell is also known for its bustling farmers markets, which are always bustling with friendly farmers and eager shoppers. If you’re looking to do some grocery shopping, you can wait for the Grinnell Farmers Market or the Prairie Produce and Pumpkin Patch.

These innovative Iowa cities have cultivated dynamic economic ecosystems through a diverse selection of locally owned cafes, shops, studios and markets in their downtowns. Visitors experience firsthand the entrepreneurial spirit that gives each community its unique character. Whether exploring the boutiques and boutique cafes of Decorah or searching for pantry ingredients in Grinnell, a stroll through these bustling small business hubs reveals the heart that drives local livelihoods. Shopping at independent stores is a powerful way for tourists to directly support the essential businesses that make up these friendly Midwestern enclaves.

By Liam