RAGBRAI good and bad for Iowa towns

BY CHRIS CLARK | JULY 21, 2009 7:15 AM

GREENFIELD, Iowa — The first thing I did after arriving in Greenfield was drink a glass of fresh-squeezed lemonade, made by Greenfield Mayor Randy Standley.

I walked from our campsite on Greenfield’s Fairgrounds to the local high school, the two main camping areas Monday, where I ran into the mayor wearing a dark green cowboy hat with “Corona” stitched across the front in gold letters.

I spoke with him for around 15 minutes while sipping on my lemonade, and he told me how beneficial RAGBRAI can be for a small town’s local economy.

“We encourage everyone in town, every business in town to participate,” Standley said. “In a town of about 2,200 people, we do everything we can to bring people into town.”

Standley said hosting a large event “puts Greenfield on the map” and allows people to see what the town has to offer, pointing out a YMCA, a 9-hole golf course, and a number of museums.

Though seemingly endless fields of corn surround Greenfield, a square near the heart of the town filled with local shops and RAGBRAI vendors attracted residents and riders alike. It also features a single-theater cinema and a bowling alley.

While in the square, I stopped by Bon’s Bakehouse, the only local business to set up outside, to talk to owner Vanessa Martin and volunteer Judi Raasch.

“People come here for the small-town home cooking,” Raasch said, who has lived in Greenfield since 1970. “They come looking for the local place to eat or the local place to get coffee,” noting such favorites as ham balls and fresh rhubarb pie.

But Martin wasn’t convinced paying a $300 vendor fee to set up outside and “filling every freezer with RAGBRAI food” would pay off.

After Cardinal Glass Co. laid off around 300 people, Martin said, her restaurant lost a lot of business from customers who were forced to cut back spending.

“It’s like a crapshoot,” she said. “With this rain, if people don’t come, I’m just left here with all this food, and I can’t have that happen.”

While Standley spoke of the economical benefit of hosting RAGBRAI, other communities have had trouble finding the resources to host the ride.

“RAGBRAI takes an incredible amount of money and volunteers to help,” said Ann McCurdy, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce in Atlantic.

The last time Atlantic hosted RAGBRAI was in 2001. Though McCurdy said she is interested in making Atlantic a host community in the future, it wouldn’t have been “too much” for the community this year.

Two weeks ago, Atlantic hosted the Air Race Classic, a women’s transcontinental airplane race for four days. Atlantic is larger than Greenfield, home to around 7,500 residents.

“With the financial cost of [the air race] and the amount of work it required, we didn’t feel like we could turn around and do [RAGBRAI],” McCurdy said. “The amount of turnaround just two weeks later seemed to be too much for a single community to host this year.”

Monday’s ride from Red Oak to Greenfield was more than 72 miles, with a 5,096-foot climb — the largest climb for a single day all week. Riders faced light rains throughout the day.

Today, riders will ride over 77 miles to Indianola — the longest single day ride all week.

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