Local business owners say annual OktoberFest aids revitalization of North Side


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On a Friday night, the Iowa City downtown is bustling with throngs of people dining out, entering bars, and enjoying their weekend. An area many young people do not journey to as often is the North Side, which features such unique aspects as a falafel restaurant and a used-book establishment.

The North Side Marketplace in Iowa City will host its second Oktoberfest this weekend, with a multitude of artists, games, and of course, beer. Restaurant and business owners say the event poses the opportunity for locals to see the revitalization transpiring in that part of town.

BeerFest will celebrate its 17th year. Last year, Tim Fisher, the owner of the Pit Smokehouse, and Doug Alberhasky, the manager of John’s Grocery, decided to combine Oktoberfest and BrewFest into one event for the neighborhood.

“We wanted to be able to educate people,” Alberhasky said. “We’ve got close to 500 different types of beer. We want people to drink for the taste, not the effect.”

Roughly 10,000 people attended Oktoberfest’s one-day event last year. This year, Oktoberfest will take place on Friday and Saturday and feature 12 different bands and 14 food vendors, all from the North Side Marketplace.

The North Side Marketplace has undergone numerous changes in an effort to become a more welcoming environment for Iowa City residents. Co-owner Naftaly Stramer of Oasis saw a need for a change in the area and worked for years to create change.

“When we started Oasis in 2004, we looked around and were upset that we weren’t getting the same treatment that the downtown area was,” Stramer said. “Two years after we opened, I went to go around and talk to the City Downtown Association. Everybody felt like the stepchild of downtown. I eventually joined the Downtown Association to make North Side better.”

The North Side Marketplace underwent sidewalk reconstruction not long ago — one of the business owners’ biggest concerns. Lighting was also improved, and as a result, more pedestrians have visited the North Side.

“Traffic here has increased; there are always people walking around,” said Nialle Sylvan, the owner of the Haunted Bookshop. “I think it helped that [the] North Side went in together to get ads [in the local papers to increase interest in North Side]; we were acting as a community, and that really attracts people.”

Mike Wright, the chairman of the North Side Neighborhood Association, believes events such as Oktoberfest help residents of Iowa City get to experience the North Side and lead to their visiting more often.

“If people haven’t been here, they need to,” he said. “I think [Oktoberfest] is a great thing. It shows people [the Marketplace] is a great place.”

Stramer hopes Oktoberfest will show the community there are alternative places to go to besides downtown.

“It’s a great way to bring people down here and see what [the North Side] is about,” Stramer said.

“It’s another side of downtown people didn’t know about. I’m proud of the Iowa City downtown district, but [the North Side] has a unique atmosphere.”

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