NewBo Shops at Heart House co-owners Joan Gray (left) and Kellie Sauser at NewBo Shops at the Heart House in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday. Sauser said they have had a hard time getting new customers into the store during the week due to the bridge closure on 16th Avenue SW. (Savannah Blake / The Gazette)
Navigating a pandemic and two shifts in location, each with a slight change to its name, can pose a challenge to any small business.
“We’m still here,” Kellie Sauser said one quiet morning. “We’re still kicking.”
Sauser and Joan Gray opened NewBo Shops about a block north of its present site in March 2015 after a successful run at NewBo City Market, where the founders had maintained a booth since its 2012 opening.
The business became NewBo Shops at 208, for its 12th Avenue SE address, before traffic concerns had its owners looking for another home.
“We loved it over there, but traffic on 12th got really crazy,” Sauser said. “You had to park across the street and cross over.
“It became a little much, traffic-wise, for people walking out of our store.”
Sauser and Gray settled on the house at 1301 Third St. SE, renovated by owner Beth DeBoom after it had been scheduled for demolition due to damage from the 2008 flood. They moved NewBo Shops there a year ago – the business’ third location and revised name in as many years.
“She calls it the Heart House,” Sauser said.
“So we kind of took that. We get a lot of the traffic by foot and bike, and the parking situation was better. ”
Regular customers followed NewBo Shops’ inventory of gifts, home decor, clothing and accessories, and other items, but the flood’s aftermath still is felt.
Flood mitigation efforts have closed the 16th Avenue bridge – a key link for NewBo-Czech Village pedestrian and bicycle traffic – for more than a year. Cross-river traffic is routed via 12th Avenue as crews install flood walls and gates on the river’s west bank, a disruption Sauser hopes ends this summer.
Sauser and Gray keep neighborhood maps on hand to help those out-of-town visitors navigate the detour.
“You have to send them over a block to go over and around,” she said. “We’ll get a lot of groups or families from out of town, and they want the experience of NewBo and Czech Village and being able to walk between the two. ”
Sauser worked in technical sales and Gray as a paralegal before they and a third partner, who’s since moved away, launched NewBo Shops. The shop stocks products from their own businesses – Sauser creates home-decor items as Kathleen Rose Designs, and Gray and her husband, Don, own Who’s Barking Now? canine treats – supplemented by local artisans and craftspeople.
“We still have a lot of our same, original artisans,” said Sauser. A lot of our staple (suppliers), they’re using us to build up their clientele.
“We wanted to be as easy as possible for the vendors and artisans to bring their stuff in.”
The shop’s workforce remains “just us,” Gray said. “My niece or her daughter will come sometimes and work the shop on Saturdays.”
COVID-19 pandemic precautions closed the shop for nine weeks, during which Sauser and Gray offered curbside pickup.
“Some of the staples we have people could not do without,” said Gray, who sees a gradual recovery for retail and its dependence on foot traffic and casual browsers.
“The whole district has found people are still skittish at times,” Gray said.
“It’s not going to be a quick fix.”
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Joan Gray bakes a variety of unique dog treats including the yappy meal and fries at NewBo Shops at the Heart House in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Thursday, April 7, 2022. (Savannah Blake / The Gazette)
NewBo Shops at the Heart House Owners Kellie Sauser and Joan Gray take pride in featuring local businesses from around the area at NewBo Shops at the Heart House in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Thursday, April 7, 2022. (Savannah Blake / The Gazette)
A variety of essential oils and natural cleaning products are available at NewBo Shops at the Heart House in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Thursday, April 7, 2022. (Savannah Blake / The Gazette)
The Heart House features a variety of items including homemade dried herbs, essential oils and dog treats at NewBo Shops at the Heart House in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Thursday, April 7, 2022. (Savannah Blake / The Gazette)
The Heart House prides itself on featuring local artists that make items like camera planters and book letters at NewBo Shops at the Heart House in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on Thursday, April 7, 2022. (Savannah Blake / The Gazette)
Co-owners: Joan Gray, Kellie Sauser
Address: 1301 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
Phone: (319) 438-1260