STORY BY GRACE ROGERS
On a warm Wednesday afternoon, finding parking in the East Village of Des Moines is easy. But come back on a Saturday, and you may run into some trouble.
Des Moines’ historic East Village is full of local business and specialty restaurants. While some early commerce areas die out, this district is still going strong.
“2005 was the big push for stuff to take off,” Mike Draper, owner of Raygun, said.
Draper’s passion for the East Village focuses more on his neighbors than their attitudes.
“Part of the reason we love the East Village is that there’s just a lot of well-run businesses,” Draper said. “There’s not an East Village Association or anything. It’s just people who love what they’re doing.”
However, it is clear that the Raygun staff have embraced the free-spirit attitude of the district. As they were putting up signs in their new store, they jokingly snapped a few pictures with the letters rearranged.
“Oops, we accidentally named the store ‘Gary,’” one employee joked.
Kate Shaw, the owner of Porch Light Antiques, moved her shop to the East Village because of that carefree attitude.
“There’s a lot of good energy down here and a nice eclectic mix of shops and it seemed as though there just wasn’t that energy in Valley Junction, where my store was before,” Shaw said.
Shaw moved her store to the East Village in 2010. After five years she has already witnessed changes in the expanding district.
“It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” Shaw said. “It’s changed a lot just in the short period of time that I’ve been here.”
Draper also experienced these differences firsthand.
“When I opened up, this wasn’t a hipster neighborhood,” Draper said. “We were the first mixed-use building in like, 30 years. But it’s kind of become Des Moines’ alternative neighborhood.”
The city of Des Moines recognized the potential of the East Village in 2010. According to a city report, “the Market District of the East Village holds promising potential to be a thriving area in downtown Des Moines.”
“It is definitely one of the trendier areas in Des Moines,” sophomore Stephanie White said. Coming from a small town herself, she understands the appeal of Des Moines.
“I can see a lot of young professionals living [in Des Moines],” White said.
The National Journal wrote an article back in October saying that the most hipster thing you could do is “move to Des Moines.”
“Lots of new lofts have been built, so there’s a lot of new people living in the East Village,” Shaw said. “It just seems to be expanding pretty quickly.”
With the growth of the East Village comes the growth of Des Moines itself. National news outlets throughout the United States have recognized the city as a place for millennials and young professionals to thrive.
“I definitely feel like I’ve seen the transformation. Des Moines has a lot to offer. I think people are pretty surprised when they come here,” Shaw said. “In their mind, they have this idea of what Des Moines is, and it’s like we’re all a bunch of farmers. But they come here and it’s really a vibrant city and it has a lot of culture and a lot of fun things to see and do.”
The change is evident.
“Whether its music or stores or restaurants or whatever, Des Moines is the best in Iowa now,” Draper said. “It wasn’t like that 10 years ago.”
Whether you’re a hipster, a young professional or just a visitor to Des Moines, one thing is for sure: the East Village is here to stay. And finding parking on a weekend will still be difficult.