Axios Des Moines

Picture of the Des Moines skyline with DSM written across it.

March 10, 2021

Hi, Des Moines. Happy Wednesday!

🚨💉 Vaccine update: Polk County's weekly shipment of Pfizer will double next week to 9,360 doses, health director Helen Eddy said Tuesday during a stakeholders meeting.

  • We'll know later this week whether vaccination eligibility will expand.
  • But Hy-Vee is still offering vaccines to Polk County residents age 65 and under with pre-existing conditions.

Today's Smart Brevity count: 851 words, a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: The future of gas station pizza

Illustration of a car's gas guage with a slice of pizza instead of a needle.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

We don't hesitate to tell out-of-state visitors they *must* try our gas station pizza.

  • But the pandemic changed how even locals are eating this Midwest delicacy.

Driving the news: Casey’s reported single slice pizza sales were down the last three months in comparison to 2019 in a quarterly call to investors Tuesday.

  • Yes, but: Whole pizza sales went up by double digits.

State of play: The shift is symbolic of how COVID-19 upended our commute and dining habits.

  • Foot traffic is still down at Casey's stores in comparison to 2019.
  • Prepared food and fountain drink sales dropped 5% November-January of this year in comparison to last year.

A major factor is people working from home, said Frank Beard, retail speaker and a host of a podcast about convenience stores.

  • Fewer people stopping for gas and coffee before work means lower single slice pizza sales.

But when it comes to whole pies, Iowans are willing to drive or order in from a nearby Casey's.

  • In the last quarter, whole pie sales went up 17% in comparison to last year, as Casey’s informed its investors during their quarterly call Tuesday.

This is all to say — yes, COVID-19 bled into all parts of our lives and dining habits.

  • Even our breakfast pizza.

What's next: Casey's is going all-in with delivery and digital sales to continue its whole pizza sales momentum.

  • 700 stores now offer DoorDash delivery and they're launching a pilot program with UberEats starting this summer.
  • The company will continue to incentivize pizza purchases through its digital rewards program.

Darren Rebelez, CEO of Casey's, said they also hope to someday attract pizza slice customers again.

  • "We think that will start to come around, particularly as the vaccine becomes more widely distributed and if people return to a more normal routine," Rebelez said during the call.

📣 Sound-off: What is your favorite food at Casey's and when's the last time you had it? (Linh loves getting the potato cheese bites.)

2. A new $1.9 million greenhouse project

A photo of Des Moines' current greenhouses at 2501 Maury St.

Des Moines' current greenhouses are located at 2501 Maury St. Photo courtesy of the Polk County Assessor

Des Moines plans to build three new city greenhouses as part of a $1.9 million relocation project, city engineer Steven Naber tells Axios.

Why it matters: The operation is key to city aesthetics.

  • More than 300,000 flowers are germinated each year for neighborhoods, schools and community groups to plant in public spaces.
  • "Perennial Divide" events — where our community donates plants for community improvements — have attracted hundreds of donations and more space is needed to house the greenery in the interim of them being transplanted.

Context: The current greenhouse at 2501 Maury St. is scheduled to vacate by the fall of 2022 and will be redeveloped into a site for a DART administration facility.

Details: The new digs are on a four-acre site at Southeast 15th and Maury streets.

  • Each greenhouse will be around 36 x 140 square feet.
  • Meeting space for education programs, an office, kitchen and storage room will be part of a fourth 4,000 square-foot "head house."

Of note: DSM's greenhouse operation relies heavily on volunteers. It currently employs the equivalent of fewer than two full-time employees.

What’s next: Des Moines City Council will be asked to approve a design contract for the project on April 19. Construction is expected to be completed in 2022.

3. A new memorial tree program

A photo of a tree planting.

Photo by Camerique/ClassicStock via Getty Images

Friends of Des Moines Parks launched a memorial program this year — "A Tree for the Future" — to help replace canopy loss.

  • Reminder: We lost a lot of trees in last year’s derecho.

How it works: Donors are asked to select their three top tree species from a list of nearly two dozen as well as their preferred park, trail or city property where they’d like it planted.

  • The dirty work is left to park staffers. (Planting is typically in the spring and fall months.)
  • Each tree is $500.

Donors will be notified when plantings are completed.

  • Of note: "Friends" is a 501c3. That means your tree is likely tax deductible.

Yes, but: Park staffers advise you to check with your accountant to confirm whether it would help your bottom line.

4. Catch up quick

An image of lockers at Callanan Middle School in Des Moines.

An image of lockers at Callanan Middle School in Des Moines. Photo courtesy of DMPS

  • Instead of handing out F's, Des Moines Public Schools is giving students a chance to improve their grades. (Des Moines Register 🔒)
  • LULAC of Iowa is challenging the state's new law shortening early voting and cutting poll hours. (AP)
  • The former Sears building at Southridge Mall will turn into a $13.5 million fitness and athletic complex by Genesis Health Clubs, the club said in a news release.
  • The FBI is requesting Ankeny residents come forward with any information about a pipe bomb that was found at an election site March 2. (KCCI-TV)

5.💰 We've got a new county treasurer

A photo of Mary Wells.

Mary Wells. Photo courtesy of Polk County Board of Supervisors

It's Mary Wells, a former platoon leader for the Iowa National Guard and most recently a supervisor at DXC Technology in West Des Moines.

  • Wells was appointed by Polk County Supervisors Tuesday to fill the term of Mary Maloney, who died in January.

🤬 Btw: Your property taxes are considered delinquent if not paid by March 31.

6. Iowa's total labor participation

Data: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

We shared numbers with you yesterday showing how COVID-19 hurt Iowa's labor force participation more than the rest of the U.S.

Some more context: While Iowa had more people exit the workforce in 2020 in comparison to the rest of the U.S., the state's total workforce participation is still slightly higher than the country as a whole.

Driving the news: Iowa started 2020 at a workforce participation rate of 70%.

  • That initial high number has helped the state retain a higher rate than the national average, despite suffering more job exits than the rest of the country in 2020.

🌱 Don't plant your garden quite yet. We're looking at below normal temperatures again next week.

  • 🤞🏼🥕 Yes, but: Jason still took the botanical gamble. Fingers crossed for his radishes and carrots.

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