WAVERLY, Iowa --- After flood water washed down Bremer Avenue in the summer of 2008, business owners went into recovery mode.
Today, Waverly’s downtown business district again looks forward to a bright future, according to Emily Neuendorf, executive director of the Waverly Chamber of Commerce.
“Now that we are growing out of that time and are at a place where we are strong, it’s time to really rejuvenate the district,” Neuendorf said.
Almost every storefront is occupied along Bremer Avenue between Fourth Street west and Fourth Street east, which contains most of the town’s main street and accounts for about 70 businesses, Neuendorf said.
East of the Cedar River, business storefronts are at capacity. Of the three vacancies on the west side, two are being renovated for prospective tenants, Neuendorf said.
“That’s huge for us,” she added.
Waverly’s downtown already sits in a strong position thanks to a diverse cross-section of businesses, officials and business owners say. The main street trifecta of retail, dining and service strives to appeal to an array of needs.
Local businesses are in ample supply, some new, some decades-old. In recent years, Fareway opted to remain on West Bremer Avenue when the company constructed a new store, and Walgreens also selected a downtown site when it established a Waverly presence.
Karol Simmer, the owner of the thread shop Fiberworks on East Bremer Avenue, likes her location. The store sees regular customers and also benefits from foot traffic.
“I think downtown is the best visible and the least costly as far as rent,” Simmer said.
Since the addition of restaurants like Water Street Grill and now perhaps with the new cupcakery, Lizzy Mae’s Cupcakes & Sweets, Julie Vierow, owner of The Printery on West Bremer Avenue, noted an uptick in foot traffic west of the Cedar River — one of the perks of a downtown location.
“We have a lot of walk-in customers. We wanted to be easily accessible,” Vierow said. “Parking is good down here.”
Special events like the annual Christmas Greetings on Main holiday kickoff in early December and Ridiculous Days, which offers promotions and activities in July, have become main street staples.
More businesses are offering extended hours and opening on Sunday, which business owner Ann Seggerman, of Renewed Purpose on East Bremer Avenue and Ann’s Liquidation Service, thinks is a smart move in meeting customer needs.
Support from residents is also key to a sustainable main street.
“Waverly is such a friendly community, and I think that’s what we’ve seen. They really do like to go to the local businesses whenever they can,” said Vierow, who opened The Printery in 1992.
Property owners and entrepreneurs also deserve credit for their resilience and dedication, Neuendorf said. Waverly businesses and the chamber are also fortunate to enjoy a good working relationship with the city, she added.
A downtown master plan completed in 2012 will serve as a launch pad for future improvements. The study looked at Bremer Avenue from Seventh Street West to Fifth Street East, as well as one block north and south of the main east-west thoroughfare.
Visionaries addressed everything from the need for more effective signage to a facade improvement program and upper story living.
Property owners interested in converting unused or underutilized upper story space plan to apply to the state for grant money available to communities in counties most affected by the 2008 floods.
The goal is to turn main street into a “livable community,” Waverly Mayor Bob Brunkhorst said, “where people are living downtown, spending money, eating and creating a life of its own in a downtown community,” Brunkhorst said.
The city also plans to work with business owners to fund facade upgrades and “breathe new life to our downtown because we do think it’s a vibrant area we can utilize,” Brunkhorst said. An effort will be made to pay attention to the structure and aesthetics of historic buildings.
The to-do list for sprucing up the downtown includes addressing problems with trees covering storefronts. Other top-ranking initiatives identified during the planning process include the addition of pocket parks and fishing and walking piers along the river as well as intersections.
Significant changes to the streetscape are limited by Bremer Avenue’s designation as a state highway — Iowa Highway 3. That could change if a proposed downtown bypass comes to fruition through the Cedar River Parkway project, Brunkhorst said.
Improvements are also planned for Kohlmann Park, which bumps up against the Cedar River and the downtown. The Greater Waverly Municipal Band is working with the city to build a performance structure in the park that is part art, part functioning acoustic area for music performances.
According to Brunkhorst, visitors and newcomers comment, “It’s nice to see the interaction with the park and the river.’”