Keep local businesses in mind

While the college’s continued attempt to close C Street creates a seemingly widening gap between the college and the community, I’ve often wondered about the connection between the two.

Students eat, drink, shop and play in Indianola…but do our dollars make a difference? So, I set out on the square to hear the perspective of Indianola’s businesses; nothing scientific, just peoples’ observances and thoughts.

Ever wondered where your professors go for lunch when they get tired of Pfeiffer?

There’s a good chance that some of them might be going to Winn’s Pizza and Steak House on the Indianola square, where Simpson College professors make up a significant portion of the lunch crowd, owner Winn Nguyen said.

“I don’t see as many students, but I see a lot of professors,” Nguyen told me when I stopped in to ask about Simpson’s impact on his business. “You’d be surprised.”

With the lunch crowd frequently populated with professors, Nguyen says he undoubtedly sees the economic effects of the college on his business. In summers, when the professors aren’t on campus, the lunch crowd is significantly smaller, he said.

Sometimes he’ll see large groups students, such as football players, stop in. In late February, Religious Life Community ordered 25 pizzas for its after-hours program, a memory that makes Nguyen smile.

Across the square at the hole-in-the-wall Pete’s Pizza, waitress Sami Amos says she sees about five different groups of Simpson students who come in on a weekly basis, mainly on Fridays and Saturdays.

The restaurant, open only four days a week, doesn’t have a huge following among students, but that may be changing, Amos and fellow waiter Brett Baumann said.

“You’ll see a few come in now and again, but lately there’s been a lot more coming in,” Baumann said. “And they’re all getting Dirty Rogalas.”

Topped with pepperoni, cream cheese and jalapenos, the Dirty Rogala is the crown jewel among the pizzas the restaurant serves and the most popular among students, both Amos and Baumann say.

“In the 90s, there was a huge group of Simpson people that would come, and as the years progressed it kind of slowed down,” Amos said. “Now I’m kind of getting them back.”

At the Zoo Bar, sitting on the north side of the square just down the street from Winn’s Pizza, bartender Jesse Forbes says the bar witnessed the same drop-off in college student business in recent years as Pete’s.

Whether it’s the economy or hikes in tuition, the crowds on a Thursday night don’t compare to the wall-to-wall crowds seen circa 2002, Forbes said. However, students still make up a significant chunk of the bar’s business and drink specials remain geared to lure students out of their apartments.

“It’s still important to us,” Forbes said. “The nights that Simpson students come out, it’s a huge boost.”

While the bar sees slightly slower crowds after students leave for the summer, Forbes said, another group brought to Indianola by the college anchors business, especially during the month of June: the Des Moines Metropolitan Opera.

On the opposite end of the economic equation, the college offers another aspect necessary to the economy: workers. For Simpson alumnae Amanda Long, who recently purchased the Sports Page and Brick House Pizza and Pasta Co. with her fiancé, as much as 50 percent of her workforce is made up of students.

Though it may not be as significant as in the past, it remains clear that Simpson College and its students are a force within Indianola’s dining, nightlife and entertainment economy. However, I’d like to see as many students at local businesses now as there were in the stories told about the glory days.

And that means getting the word out about the local gems here in Indianola. As Long said when I asked her why she thinks local businesses don’t see as many students as they might like, it’s all about familiarity with the town.

It wasn’t much different when she was here, Long said.

“I don’t think a lot of people knew Crouse (Cafe) was a good place for breakfast on a Sunday morning,” Long said.

Just because Indianola is not the big city doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring, and don’t make the mistake of assuming that being a Simpson College student and an Indianola resident are somehow separate.

I’ll make it this easy. Next time you and your friends plan to buy a Little Caesar’s pizza to eat over dorm room video games, go to Pete’s and try the Dirty Rogala instead.

Yes, it’s approximately $8 more expensive than the alternative, but that’s money well spent in a town you’ll be calling home for a fantastic four years.