Old Capitol dreaming

BY EMILY INMAN | APRIL 08, 2011 7:20 AM

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Finals week, fall semester: The campus is adorned with sparkling Christmas decorations and a light dusting of snow. Students walk through campus, books and lattés in hand, no coat or wallet in tow.

They meet in groups of four or five at the coffeehouse, near the dorms and some sort of wonder-mart where they can purchase whatever their hearts desire — from foam fingers for the football game to grocery bags full of soup to the perfect Christmas present for their love of the week.

“The College Years” spin-offs of the ’90s teen sitcoms I watched as a kid teem with these campus utopias (and a side of cheese). The University of Iowa, however, wasn’t built by cheesy teen sitcom writers, and our campus is quite different from most others.

Downtown Iowa City has the dual obligation of servicing college students while maintaining a community atmosphere for its citizens. Though I love Iowa City, sometimes this rocky marriage between the college students and the community does students a disservice in terms of what’s available downtown. It’s hard being a college student, without a car and much money, to find stores downtown that cater to our needs.

For instance, young women have limited options when it comes to buying clothing. The Express in the Old Capitol Town Center was an excellent idea, yet it failed. Hundreds of college women need a place to buy clothes for various occasions; why not put a clothing store right in the middle of campus?

It was great at first. But after a while, everyone began to notice that everyone else s wearing the same outfit. Wearing an Express shirt became a faux pas.

Now the Express is going to be replaced by Four Seasons, a local women’s clothing store that typically serves an older demographic. The owners of Four Seasons have said they plan to target younger adults in their new store. However, one has to question their knowledge of the current college-woman dress trends, given a 25-year style difference. Four Seasons is mostly likely going to go down the same path as Express, yet for different reasons.

The Old Capitol mall needs to cater to its college audience. It needs to seriously rethink leasing spaces out to stores that won’t accomplish this goal. Several young women’s clothing stores not already located in the Coral Ridge Mall would go over great.

A shoe store would be great, too. Many occasions come up that students haven’t anticipated or packed for, like a new job that requires only white shoes. Students are often unable to find what they need in a reasonable amount of time without venturing far off campus.

Clothing and shoe stores aren’t the only entities that could thrive in the Old Capitol mall. Grocery shopping is also hard to do downtown. Granted, there is the Bread Garden Market and the New Pioneer Co-op (with 8 million different varieties of beans), but there’s a need for a central complete-service grocery store.

A 24-hour fast-food restaurant would also be popular with students. Many students complain about the lack of late-night food options, especially those that they were used to in high school such as Burger King, McDonald’s, and White Castle.

Empty store spots won’t provide these benefits. A Four Seasons or other similar stores won’t, either. The Old Capitol mall needs a revitalization; this revitalization should occur with the needs and desires of students governing each decision.

Maybe then we, too, could have a fanciful campus where coats aren’t necessary during winter and no one ever breaks up — like in your favorite ’90s teen sitcom.

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