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Sizing Up Small Towns


Sizing Up Small Towns

Rethinking Success in Rural Iowa

Story by Carol Bodensteiner | Photography by Jason Fort, John Holtorf, Mark Tade

“Hello! Welcome!”

Becky Dietzler calls a friendly greeting to a family entering the Turkey River Mall in Elkader. “Is this your first time here?” One of the visitors nods. “We're always looking for something, and when we read about this place, we had to come see.”

Dietzler proceeds to tell them about the 100 antiques vendors they'll find in the 14,000-square-foot, four-story former hotel. When the group heads off to browse, she inks four marks on the paper she keeps on her desk, adding to the running tally she's kept of every visitor to walk through the doors of the antiques mall for the past five and a half years.

As of April 23, 2011, Becky had recorded 91,027 shoppers. Roughly a third were first-time visitors. “Business was good last year,” she reports, “and it's even better this year.”

Meanwhile, outside the shop on Main Street, cars jockey for parking places as visitors stream into Elkader's one-of-a-kind boutiques to shop and into Mediterranean and Irish restaurants to dine.

A trailer filled with canoes rumbles by, heading upriver with boaters and anglers out to enjoy the Turkey River Corridor, a designated Iowa Great Place. Public and private campgrounds are packed with people attracted to the scenic wooded hills and rich, rolling plains of northeast Iowa.

A grain truck passes, steering for the elevator near the south end of town. Farther north, a line of massive John Deere tractors and combines is on display outside one of the state's largest farm equipment dealerships.

“Elkader has so much going for it,” says Kathy Josten, owner of Bridge Street Boutique & Gifts, just around the corner from the antiques mall. “Hopefully this is the future of Iowa.”

(Read more about Success in Rural Iowa)

Business is good, report Elkader small business owners Becky Dietzler (left, greeting visitors to the Turkey River Mall) and Kathy Josten (right, in Bridge Street Boutique & Gifts).

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