The story of Czech Village-New Bohemia (CVNB) is a story of its people. Dedicated, passionate, creative, and hard-working; we tirelessly strive to improve our neighborhood even in the face of hardships. This underdog saga tugs at the curiosity of visitors from around the world who want to see how we have managed to come so far.
Pushed out of the main downtown of Cedar Rapids, Iowa in the late 1800s, entrepreneurial Czech immigrants moved to the “South End” and started building. With abundant jobs at several nearby factories, the immigrant population quickly prospered and expanded to the west side of the Cedar River creating “Czech Village”. Modest homes were constructed and soon after, new businesses were created to serve their needs from meat markets to banks, jewelers to bakeries, social halls to schools. The intermixing of commercial structures dotted by residences helps tell the story of this tight-knit community.
Many small businesses closed their doors as industrialization took over. An economic downturn in the 90s caused several of the factories in the area to close leaving the district an abandoned collection of neglected architecture, crime, and struggling shops. A grassroots group of free-spirited artists saw potential in this diamond-in-the-rough neighborhood. With cheap rents, spacious warehouses, and the shells of cultural gems like theatres and social halls, they quickly banded together to create an inclusive artistic & entrepreneurial community. By the early 2000s they had coined a name for their group and neighborhood, New Bohemia, and started staging events driven by a passion for art, music, and community. Across the river, the Czech Village Association of merchants organized festivals to promote the neighborhood’s heritage and draw visitors to the avenue.
These efforts continued on as several leaders in the community began talking about the Main Street program and how it may be just the right thing to sustain and build the positive momentum. Those conversations were interrupted by the Flood of 2008. As one of the worst natural disasters in the US inundated the district with around 10 feet of murky waters, the community rolled up their sleeves and chipped in with sandbagging, mucking out buildings, and hauling away the debris of belongings and heirlooms that were beyond saving. Everyone has a stake in the district, and the Flood of 2008 was the kick in the pants that helped us realize that this was something we didn’t want to lose. The Czech Village-New Bohemia Main Street District was formed in 2009, and has helped serve as the common thread joining efforts toward a shared vision.
Fast forward nearly 10 short years later and we haven’t just recovered; we’ve put Cedar Rapids on the map. We get interviewed regularly by researchers across the country about our resiliency, social capital, and innovation. We are home to world-class museums, performing and fine arts centers, small business incubators, Iowa’s first startup accelerator, co-working spaces, fantastic restaurants and shops, brewery, year-round public market, packed calendar of programming and events, and the hottest residential real estate. Market analysis shows that we regularly draw customer traffic from about a 1 hour radius with visitor traffic coming from all fifty states and several foreign countries.
Just as the Czech immigrants created a home for themselves, visitors will feel right at home too. In fact, several of those historic immigrant homes have been reused as Airbnb suites offering unique and comfortable living in the heart of a booming urban neighborhood. With the primary downtown of Cedar Rapids just blocks away, there are dozens of hospitality options within a short walk, bike, or shuttle ride.
Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to the Main Street District each year to experience the culture, arts, and big-city amenities with a small-town feel. Regional newspaper, the Corridor Business Journal, ranked the Czech Village-New Bohemia Main Street District as the top Cultural Attraction in 2016.
Aaron McCreight, Director of GO Cedar Rapids and his team value what the Main Street District has to offer for visitors; touting it as the number one reason people come to Cedar Rapids for leisure travel.