2015 Preservation at its Best, Commercial Small: Bowery Street Grocery Store
518 Bowery Street is a tiny building: Measuring 18’ wide by 40’ deep it is the archetypical example of a small storefront built in 19th century Iowa. Simple in construction, small in scale, utilitarian in function, the building is a surviving example of a retail store with a false front. This neighborhood grocery store was historically woven into mixed use neighborhood and functioned as a community anchor for nearly a century. The construction date is unknown; however, it appears on an 1868 bird’s eye view of Iowa City and is listed in the 1897 city directory as a “groceries and meat market”. Sometime—perhaps in the 1980s the building was illegally converted into student apartments. When the new owners acquired the building in 2013 it was in poor condition. Additionally, the location, size, and layout of the building limited its use as housing and rezoning was required if it was to return to commercial use. This project required careful coordination with the city of Iowa City’s planning and zoning commission, historic preservation commission, the owners, the neighborhood and the State Historic Preservation Office.
Today, the building is a specialty grocery store in largely residential neighborhood, much like its historic use. We liked this project so much because it is an example of preservation that is not fancy, but rather representative of how everyday Iowan’s lived in the 19th and early 20th century. The small corner store is nearly extinct today; however, this survivor helps us understand the compact, walkable neighborhoods of our ancestors. It is also a great example of city government, state government and a developer working together and using historic preservation as a tool for neighborhood development and diversification.