Shops and stores on W Water Street n Decorah, Iowa. Editorial credit: Steve Heap /

8 Towns in Iowa With Thriving Local Businesses

Locally owned and independently run businesses are the backbone of any small town's economy. While Iowa is home to bustling cities like Des Moines, hosting thriving industries and multinationals, its little-known destinations demonstrate an ambitious entrepreneurial spirit. Across the Hawkeye State, pockets of creativity and commerce have sprung up in the friendliest of small communities.

Away from competition with big box chains, these locales champion hometown pride by supporting an array of locally-focused enterprises. Visitors to these towns in Iowa will find downtowns alive with diverse shops, craft makers, studios, and eateries cultivating unique Midwestern flavors from the ground up. By becoming a patron of these entrepreneurial hubs, tourists directly sustain small-town livelihoods and discover what makes each destination's economy tick through goods, services, and hospitality.


Windmill at Dutch village Pella in Iowa, USA.
Windmill at Dutch village Pella in Iowa, US.

This charming Dutch village southeast of Des Moines was founded by settlers immigrating from the Netherlands. It harbors deep European roots and influences that locals have harnessed to establish successful homegrown ventures across the community. Jaarsma Bakery on Franklin Street used traditional recipes to prepare authentic Dutch pastries from scratch. The family-owned eatery has been a mainstay in Pella since its establishment in 1898. Meanwhile, guests eager to sample locally crafted wines can stop by the Wijn Shop, which stocks wine varieties from the Iowa region.

Casual shoppers will find a quaint shopping experience at HallTree Boutique, which specializes in unique women's clothing and offers friendly service. Pella also hosts several local markets, such as the Dutch Market and Dutch Meat Market, where growers and crafters sell fresh produce, meats, baked products, and handmade crafts.


Centerville, Iowa. In Wikipedia.,_Iowa By Joanna Poe from Munith, MI, USA - Centerville town square, CC BY-SA 2.0,
Centerville, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By Joanna Poe from Munith, MI, US - Centerville town square, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikipedia

Although better known as a recreational hunting hub, this lovely community in Appanoose County boasts rich cultural diversity. A coal mining boom at the start of the 20th century drew various European immigrants, and their descendants maintain these cultural influences, which show through the various downtown businesses. The culinary scene is an excellent point of reference, and George & Nick's Pizza & Steakhouse has operated in Centerville since 1968. This downtown joint prepares sumptuous Greek-style pizzas, which have allowed it to thrive for years. The town has multiple antique stores, including Mystique Vintage & Unique and Forbush ARTiques, where tourists can find unique crafts and other precious collectibles.

Thanks to the Gypsy Quarter, shopaholics can look forward to a remarkable shopping experience in Centerville. This exciting boutique sells women's, men's, and children's clothing across its three floors, ensuring a wholesome retail therapy session.


Newton, Iowa. In Wikipedia.,_Iowa By Gtkn - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,
Newton, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By Gtkn - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikipedia

Newton was once home to a Fortune 500 company, Maytag Corporation, which was founded in the town in 1893. Although the brand shifted its headquarters to Michigan, the town maintains its entrepreneurial capabilities. The Iowa Speedway draws droves of race enthusiasts to the city, allowing local businesses to capitalize on the incoming spending potential. This has resulted in successful local ventures like Maytag Dairy Farms, whose award-winning blue cheese is sold statewide. The downtown restaurant scene offers diverse flavors to tantalize all taste buds; Los Amigos stands out for its authentic Mexican dishes, from tacos to burritos.

Exploring Newton's town core also offers an opportunity to find cute gifts and souvenirs at the different stores in the area. For instance, Nancy's Canned Creations sells unique crafts, which you can also find at the Center for Arts & Artists.


Main building of the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum on the town main street in Iowa. Editorial credit: Steve Heap /
Main building of the Vesterheim Norwegian American Museum on the town main street in Iowa. Editorial credit: Steve Heap /

Decorah's strategic location at the confluence of U.S. Route 52 and State Highway 9 brings plenty of traffic through the town, which blesses the local business community with new potential customers daily. The city has a rich brewery scene, with guests getting to sample homemade crafts at local staples like Pulpit Rock Brewing Company and Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. Meanwhile, Gossling Cabinetry Showroom is a thriving family-owned venture supplying Decorah residents with custom cabinets for their homes.

Multiple gift shops and antique stores throughout downtown Decorah promise souvenir collectors beautiful pieces. Some pleasant venues to stop by include Sparrow's Candles & gifts and Heavenly Made Gifts & The Gnome Store.

Storm Lake

Storm Lake, Iowa. In Wikipedia.,_Iowa By Calvin Beale - USDA photo at this website, Public Domain,
Storm Lake, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By Calvin Beale - USDA photo at this website, Public Domain, Wikipedia

Home to Buena Vista University, this history college town impressively balances the new and the old as rustic charm intertwines with urban delights. A youthful student population has influenced a lively entertainment scene in Storm Lake, featuring a cluster of pubs and taverns. Brewsters and Mo's are local hotspots you can visit for a good time after hours. Storm Lake Bakery is also the go-to spot for fresh pastries, bread, donuts, and cakes. The award-winning bakery delights locals and visitors alike with its incredible selection of baked goods.

Finally, there is a broad mix of boutique stores to cater to the large student demographic, which has an affinity for keeping up with the latest fashion trends. Among the notable outlets to check out in town are Buckle and Celeste Fashion.


Knoxville, Iowa. In Wikipedia.,_Iowa By en:User:Cburnett - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Knoxville, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By en:User:Cburnett - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia

Knoxville's rich racing heritage makes it one of the best towns in Iowa for car race enthusiasts. It is home to Knoxville Raceway, which draws fanatics with a thirst for beer to town. This has allowed local brew crafters to experience decent success in their business. Several shopping outlets and thrift stores in town provide tourists with casual shopping experiences that won't break the bank. Raiment Fashion is an excellent option for those looking for the trendiest women's wear, whereas the Well Thrift Store serves those with a limited budget to spend.

Every Saturday and Tuesday, the Knoxville Iowa Farmers Market brings the town to life as local growers and crafters lay out their merchandise for interested buyers. The atmosphere is always family-friendly, with baked goods, fresh produce, and traditional crafts on the offing.

Mount Pleasant

Mt. Pleasant is a small Community in Southern Iowa.
Mt. Pleasant is a small Community in Southern Iowa.

This pleasant community in Henry County boasts a rich history dating back to its founding by Presley Saunders in 1835. It has nurtured homegrown business people and local merchants who have downed an undying entrepreneurial spirit to the next generation. Today, you can find heralded establishments like Airport Road Vineyard & Winery, which delight customers with tastings of award-winning local wines. With so much history in the air, it's not surprising Mount Pleasant hosts multiple antique shops. Those with a soft spot for vintage souvenirs can stop by the Vintage Raven or the Jefferson Antique Mall to see what's on display.

Finally, visitors will also fancy a small-town shopping experience at Sorta Sweet Boutique, which specializes in lovely clothing accessories for all shapes and sizes. It is also an opportunity to support a woman-owned local business.


Grinnell, Iowa. In Wikipedia.,_Iowa By Aaron Tait from San Francisco, United States - Grinnell, IA, CC BY 2.0,
Grinnell, Iowa. In Wikipedia. By Aaron Tait from San Francisco, United States - Grinnell, IA, CC BY 2.0, Wikipedia

Grinnell is a historic town with a charming downtown district hosting gorgeous old-world architecture and antique structures. These buildings also house local businesses that reflect the town's culture and heritage. For instance, the Grinnell Craft Brewhouse represents a bustling craft brewery scene where visitors can sample fresh sours and ales. You will also find an assortment of family-operated coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants, promising a delightful dining experience. Some popular options, known for their quality service and family-friendly atmosphere, include Hometown Heroes and Saints Rest Coffee House.

Grinnell is also known for its bustling farmers' markets, which are always bustling with friendly farmers and eager buyers. If you want to go grocery shopping, you can wait for Grinnell Farmers Market or the Prairie Produce and Pumpkin Patch.

These innovative towns in Iowa have cultivated dynamic economic ecosystems through a diverse array of locally-owned cafes, shops, studios, and markets throughout their downtowns. Visitors experience first-hand the entrepreneurial spirit that gives each community its unique flavors. Whether exploring Decorah's boutiques and boutique cafes or sourcing pantry ingredients in Grinnell, a walk around these bustling small business hubs reveals the heart driving local livelihoods. Shopping at independent stores is a powerful way tourists can directly sustain the backbone businesses that make these friendly Midwestern United States enclaves tick.

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