Local business influences downtown community


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With an Iowa City business having sold more than two million cups of yogurt, a number of local officials say the establishment has helped redefine the downtown landscape since its kickoff two years ago.

Customer lines out the door Thursday afternoon marked Yotopia Frozen Yogurt’s second birthday. 

This milestone resembles not only an important time for the business, but for the Downtown District as well.

On Sept. 9, 2011, now-downtown resident Veronica Tessler, the owner and founder of the shop at 132 S. Clinton St., noticed that Iowa City lacked her favorite healthy dessert.

“There was a problem in Iowa City and that problem was that there was no frozen yogurt,” Tessler said. “My friends and I joke [that] I solved the problem so well that there are now five frozen yogurt shops in a two-mile radius.”

Not only did Tessler solve a dessert absence, officials said, the business has been a part of continued improvement efforts downtown aimed at diversification.

Following the passage of the city’s controversial 21-ordinance in 2011, Iowa City officials and the business community have striven to bring a mixed makeup to the city’s core.

“We want to have a balance of businesses, and we want to have a balance of options for people all ages and situations,” Mayor Matt Hayek said.  “The more variety there is, the more attractive that becomes to patrons.”

While Yotopia was the first in this particular dessert venue, its newly changed late-night hours have also enabled it to start a movement toward a more diversified downtown nightlife.

“We were the first frozen-yogurt shop, and I think we spurred a movement, a FroYo movement, so to speak,” Tessler said.

She aimed to provide an alternative space for the community to gather, aside from numerous bars.

“I think that it sets a good example for all of us … [and it’s] always good to give people options for what they want to do with their evenings,” Tessler said.

One University of Iowa student agrees that Yotopia has achieved this goal.

“It’s just a really great rallying place for people,” senior Melanie Ferguson said. “It’s just a really good place to come and hang out and enjoy the downtown. I think it’s a great place; it’s a good alternative to going to the bars.”

Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Downtown District, and Hayek cited nonalcoholic, family-friendly settings as a part of the diversity the city is looking for.

Tessler said she believed her business to be the first nonalcohol, late-night spot to open following the ordinance.

“I think [it] has had an impact … not only [on] business downtown but just the culture of downtown,” she said.

For at least one neighboring business, having Yotopia nearby has helped its bottom line.

Dave Nerad, the store manager of Active Endeavors, 138 S. Clinton St., said Tessler’s business venture moved it to expand their weekday closing time from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

“When they first opened, we noticed increased foot traffic almost immediately,” Nerad said.

As a longtime Yotopia customer, Ferguson said, she is pleased to have noticed a growth in the business alongside its influence on the rest of downtown.

“It really has grown as a business, which is great for them,” she said. “I would like to see them [continue to] play a bigger role; I think it’s great that they’re here.”

Recognizing the two-year mark as a milestone, Bird said she has high hopes for Yotopia’s future.

“It just indicates that they have a business plan that can withstand the ebbs and flows of the market and that they’ll be a long-term business,” she said.

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