How Small Town Business Owners In One Iowa Town Are Banding Together

Apr 25, 2019

A small group of businesses in one southern Iowa town has found a way to stay open by banding together to attract spending customers to town, rather than compete against each other.

“Why not Humeston?” Leigh Ann Coffey, owner of Sweet Southern Sass, said when asked why business owners choose to open a business in a small town.

Snyder’s store in Humeston, Iowa, on March 27, 2019.
Credit Austin Hronich/IowaWatch

Sweet Southern Sass, Snyder’s, Grassroots Gallery & Cafe, Snips of Thread Quilt Shop and Grampa Jims formed a group “Shop Humeston.”

Snyder’s is the oldest in the group, opening in 1949. An old-fashioned variety store, as well as a modern-day fashion boutique, Snyder’s has drawn people from different parts of the state, including Des Moines, Ottumwa, Pella, Creston, said Cindi Davidson, a Grassroots employee and Humeston resident.

“The biggest asset has been Grassroots Cafe. This has been a good addition to the community,” Jill Teuth, owner of Snyder’s, said. 

The business owners know they can’t depend solely on the town’s residents to support their store — Humeston’s population is 494.

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“Most of our business comes from people out of town, like 60-to-70 mile radius, from other towns that come to Humeston as a destination for the day,” Davidson said.

“They come to town to shop, to eat lunch and enjoy a small town atmosphere,” she said. “They aren’t the local people who come in here.”

Among the things on which the business have cooperated:

The travel company J and H Travel LLC of Newton plans and schedules bus tours with the business owners to visit Humeston. The J and H Travel website advertises a Humeston tour at the end of July called “Ladies Day Getaway 2019.”

The group also used a Travel Iowa grant to create on online video commercial that also includes nods to local businesses Shaker Works, Front Street Inn and Dragonfly.

Shop Humeston members meet monthly to host quarterly events they hope will draw customers for a day of shopping. They work together to figure out what deals and coupons to offer at each store.

“We all struggle with how to put our stores onto the technology side of it,” Coffey said about using social media. “It takes so much time. We’re all small, owner run businesses, we just don’t have that time. If there’s ever a need for our businesses, it’s how do we market ourselves, our town, to bring people in.”

Despite the struggles, Wayne County Board of Supervisor member David Dotts said the businesses are doing something well. “I’m really proud of Humeston’s businesses, they’ve done a really good job,” he said.

This story was produced by the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism-IowaWatch, a non-profit, online news website, and the Simpson College Journalism SeminarReporters for the project were: Randy Paulson, Zoe Seiler, Emily Carey, Austin Hronich, Taylor Bates and Dustin Teays. Read more at www.IowaWatch.org.