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Iowa City's Northside Dairy Queen closes

BY GABRIELLA DUNN | NOVEMBER 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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The nearly 22-year-old Dairy Queen on East Market Street closed its doors Sunday after issues with storefront visibility took a toll on the store’s business over the last several years.

John Mayo, the owner of the Market Street location, said after owning the business for 17 years, he is sad to see it come to an end. The market in Iowa City, he said, hasn’t been able to support their business like it used to.

“I like to call Iowa City the city of eternal youth,” Mayo said, indicating he has long been in the business of introducing his Dairy Queen to new clients. “There’s a constant turnover of your clientele as far as your student body is concerned.”

An extension of Casey’s General Store, 204 N. Dubuque St., was built around five years ago and largely affected business for Mayo in terms of obstructing the visibility of the Dairy Queen. Mayo said the numbers have gone down every year since the extension was built.

“As business decreased, we looked for ways to increase our visibility,” Mayo said. “I’ve tried various advertising schemes — none of which have been at all effective.”

Supervisors at the Casey’s location on Dubuque Street declined to comment, and their corporate location could not be reached.

When the Dairy Queen’s visibility was compromised by Casey’s addition, Mayo said, he tried to improve the signage in an attempt to attract more customers.

“Being a Dairy Queen, we’re an impulse business,” Mayo said. “If you don’t see us, you don’t think of us , and you don’t come in.”

The efforts to increase signage, he said, were limited, though, because of Iowa City regulations.

Jann Ream, an Iowa City code-enforcement assistant, said Iowa City is divided into various zones with different restrictions regarding signs for each particular zone.

“[Dairy Queen’s zone] is not the most liberal zone, but it’s certainly not the strictest,” Ream said.

Ream said the circumstances for Dairy Queen are unfortunate but noted being located in an interior lot always leaves open the chance for a building to be constructed next to your location.

Pizza Pit, 214 E. Market St., has also seen a hit to its business from lessened visibility on Dubuque.

“We’ve certainly seen a drop in sales since they added the extra pizza shop onto the Casey’s,” said Tim Kelly, a co-owner of Pizza Pit. “[The city] let us put a sign up on our building, and then just months later, Casey’s built onto its building, which pretty much blocked our sign.”

What Mayo doesn’t attribute to the downturn of his business is the recent frozen-yogurt expansion, noting differing business models. 

Mayo’s daughter, Kelly Mayo, agreed with her father that Casey’s is the larger issue. She said when Casey’s addition went up, their business dropped off by 50 percent in the first month, and it has been declining ever since.

She too, referenced the expansion of Casey’s as negatively affecting their business.

“The wall is the clear villain here,” she said.

With the Dairy Queen location closing, Kelly Mayo said she hopes to open a Pedi Cab company this spring. Her farewell to the business had a twist, though.

“It’s too bad — I’ve had these long-term fantasies about my 5-year-old coming in and working here while he was in college, and that won’t happen, but it’s OK,” she said.


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