Downtown IC Panchero's remodel near completion

BY JOHN STAAK | AUGUST 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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Panchero's Mexican Grill will soon offer a taste of history.

After almost 19 years as a hot spot for students in downtown Iowa City, Panchero's, 32 S. Clinton St., is undergoing remodeling of its storefront to recapture the 1920s spirit of one of the building's previous occupants, the Whetstone Drugstore.

"We needed to update the outside of our store for a few years, and we've just been looking at how to do it and a lot of the old photographs, and that look kept jumping out," said Panchero founder and President Rodney Anderson.

Whetstone occupied the Clinton Street location from 1890 to the early 1970s. In 1992, Anderson opened his fresh-Mexican style restaurant at the location.

The project began about two weeks ago, and it is scheduled for completion before University of Iowa classes resume on Aug. 22. Anderson's plan was to complete the remodeling between the summer and fall classes.

"It's taken a couple days longer than we wanted," he said. "But we want to have the front 100 percent done when classes start, and get the side done a couple days after that."

Anderson said he hopes the work will be finished by Aug. 23, in time for Panchero's $1 burrito day, an event expected to bring approximately 1,000 people to the restaurant.

The original building sported a glass display case where now a fluted cast-iron column stands. Until the remodeling, the column had been boxed in and invisible to pedestrians.

"It's kind of interesting once you take some of the old stuff off, what you find," Anderson said.

He plans on having the column sanded down, painted, and refurbished. Other changes to the storefront include installation of stamped metal panels above the windows and trimmed wood paneling along the main entrance walls. The south wall will serve as a "false" storefront consisting of a large window looking into the kitchen and a section of adjacent opaque spandrel glass.

Unlike the Whetstone of the 1920s, the new storefront will lack an awning and display a modern LED sign. Although this sign does not resemble the 1920s style, Anderson said, it is most compliant to code.

"It's hard to guess whether there will be a tangible effect on the business climate of the downtown area," said Nick Arnold, the executive director of the Downtown Association. "Aesthetically, having a downtown with unique and interesting storefronts is just another way downtown Iowa City stands out from the crowd."

Catherine Champion, the president of the Downtown Association and owner of Catherine's Boutique, 7 S. Dubuque St., and Cheap and Chic, 105 S. Dubuque St., said the association encourages businesses to make advancements.

"The Downtown Association loves progress as promised," she said. "Any improvements are great; we encourage everyone to improve."

Anderson said he hopes the new look will draw more customers.

"It will make us more visible," he said. "It gives us better signage. It will be the first thing that people see when they walk off the campus."

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