Jan 19, 2024 - News

Cold caucus weather stifles Iowa businesses

Illustration of Benjamin Franklin wearing cold weather gear and exiting the frame of the one hundred dollar bill.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

This year's Iowa caucuses didn't just have low voter turnout — local businesses say it was a bust for them as well.

Why it matters: The caucuses draw in media outlets, campaigns and political tourists that restaurants, shops and hotels capitalize on.

  • But "the weather definitely put a dagger in it" this year, says Paul Rottenberg, president of Orchestrate Hospitality, which owns restaurants like Centro, Django and Bubba.

By the numbers: Catch Des Moines, a convention and visitors bureau, estimates the caucuses and the preceding week brought $4.2 million in direct economic impact based on hotel reservations and other factors.

  • That's down from the initial $11.3 million estimate in December 2023.

State of play: The week leading up to the caucuses was "the worst week of weather" Rottenberg's experienced in downtown Des Moines.

  • Centro, a popular caucus spot for politicos and journalists, ended up closing for two and a half days due to the blizzard.
  • At least 1,000 journalists and media staff were in Des Moines, according to Catch Des Moines' estimates.

Zoom in: RAYGUN, another popular clothing shop for visitors, experienced an uptick in visitors downtown, especially by media people, owner Mike Draper tells Axios.

  • The store finished with sales of about 10% of 2020's revenue, when Democrats were caucusing and the weather was better, owner Mike Draper tells Axios.
  • Draper did about 50 media interviews in the days leading up to the 2020 caucuses. He did approximately 10 this year, he says.

Between the lines: The $11 million estimate was based on historic data from previous caucus cycles, says Trina Flack, Catch Des Moines' VP of sales.

  • But as media outlets continue to slim down their operations, they aren't sending as many reporters to cover Iowa's first-in-the-nation event, she says.
  • And while the week leading up to the caucuses had poor weather, Iowa still had "campaigns that were basically living here for the last six months," Flack says.

The bottom line: Even if this year's caucuses weren't as lucrative as previous cycles, it was still better than a normal, snowed-out January for businesses.

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