DES MOINES, IOWA (MEDIA GENERAL) – Iowa businesses invented the caucus-themed cottage industry that today buoys small enterprises across the Hawkeye State.
And while many American towns despise interruptions introduced by media swarms chasing around attention-seeking candidates, Iowans don’t seem to mind one bit.
In fact, small business owners welcome caucus season with open arms – and cash registers.
A Des Moines antique store called West End Architectural Salvage (star of the popular DIY Network show, West End Salvage) swung open its doors for CNN and NBC, letting its reclaimed wood and authentic rusted signs serve as a down-home backdrop for national broadcasts.
In the city’s East Village neighborhood, Scenic Route Bakery allows in hordes of media and politicians of every stripe to snap selfies, shake hands and sample warm brews.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton dropped in for a second time this Friday, and they already had her order ready.
Marie-Claude Desrochers, the shop’s manager, said Clinton told the staff she loved the honey and cinnamon-infused espresso mix (called the “honeybee”) so much on her first visit that had to have another one.
There’s a strategy in all of this.
Customers see candidates’ visits online and come in to sample the same wares. Desrochers calls this phenomenon “the caucus effect.”
Scenic Route has only been open for a year, and the well-timed debut set them up for immediate commercial success.
The coffee shop has made a point of remaining non-partisan. But other businesses, with long tenures and loyal customers, have more outspoken points of view.
RAYGUN—whose all caps logo matches its bold fashions—certainly qualifies for the opinionated camp. The local shop opened 10 years ago and quickly became famous for its quirky – and occasionally saucy – campaign apparel.
Staff members report this season’s biggest sellers have been Sanders and Trump, by a landslide.
RAYGUN bills itself as “the Pizza Ranch for the Democratic Party,” according to director of stores Taylor Frame. (Note: Pizza Ranch is a chain restaurant considered a must-visit for all GOP candidates).
Frame says with this season’s robust GOP field, they’ve seen a steady stream of business that even tops past cycles.
The established store is also trying to help out fledgling companies.
Hoping to capitalize on the unique spectacle of 2016, a pair of men created a political game called “The Contender,” venturing to Iowa from California to market their invention among political enthusiasts.
In true entrepreneurial fashion, after selling 3500 units online, Justin Robert Young and John Teasdale hopped a plane from San Francisco to Iowa, and have been cruising Des Moines streets during caucus season talking up their game.
The creators got a hand up when RAYGUN put it on store shelves this week. So far, it’s getting positive feedback.
“It pairs great with wine,” Teasdale tells customers hoping to avoid confrontations while playing the highly political game.
“Yeah, with a spicy red,” Young clarifies.
After Monday’s caucuses, the Bay Area men will pack up and go home, along with the national media.
But in four years, it will be time to do it all over again – and Iowa businesses will be ready.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales