Morgan Chicchelly, otherwise known as the Des Moines Girl (DSMG) on Instagram, is creating a space for those in the Des Moines area to discover the small businesses and hidden gems that make up the city.
Chicchelly is a Des Moines native but moved to the East Coast in her 20s. She relied on city guides to get familiar with the area and meet new people. When the pandemic hit, she moved back to Des Moines and was looking forward to finding a city guide for her hometown – especially at a time when small businesses needed the spotlight.
“There was a need to put support and eyeballs on small businesses,” Chicchelly said. “…I was looking for the first six months that I lived here being like ‘It must exist, it must exist, it must exist.’ And then I realized it just doesn’t.”
Chicchelly then took it upon herself to make a social media guide to the city of Des Moines.
“Because of my past professional work, I knew the elements to build a website, to start a social media channel and figured I’d give it a shot,” said Chicchelly, who works in product development for insurance.
She half expected the site to launch and then for someone to direct message her on Instagram and say that someone has already made something like this.
But no one did.
Instead, almost two years after it launched, the Instagram account has grown to over 10,000 followers.
Some Drake students are among those followers.
“I follow DSMG because I sometimes get bored in the Des Moines area,” sophomore Savannah Ervin said. “Yet I know there are things to do. I just need help finding new ideas for ways to get out and have fun.”
Ervin got the idea to follow @desmoines_girl on Instagram from her parents, who also follow her. She said she plans on utilizing the weekend guides that DSMG has on their website and suggests that others do the same.
“I would recommend this account to other people because she has so many recommendations on activities to do, food to eat, good coffee shops, really everything in the Des Moines area,” Ervin said. “It’s great for people that don’t know much about Des Moines or even people that think they know Des Moines well. She hands out some really cool hidden treasures.”
These “hidden treasures” go back to why Chicchelly started the guide in the first place- to highlight small businesses.
“I hope I can shine a spotlight on the work that they’re doing and be their go-to channel for when they want messages amplified to the greater community,” Chicchelly said.
Chicchelly said she realized that her work was having an important impact on these small businesses when she started to receive feedback that businesses were growing after she shared their business on DSMG.
“People are actually taking action on what I’m posting,” Chicchelly said. “And it can have a serious impact on these dreamers and creatives and business owners who are working.”
She said she had this moment where she thought “Oh wow, it’s actually doing something.” But that’s not her favorite part about her work. The best part is the people.
“Learning about and meeting the people in this community,” Chicchelly said. “Understanding what their dreams are for it and figuring out how I can help them meet those goals.”
Jenna Lovan, owner of The Plant Dealer, is one of the small businesses that has been mentioned by DSMG in a plant shops of Des Moines guide.
“I had no clue they were going to mention us, but we love a good shoutout,” Lovan said. “Our business is so small that I’m always surprised when people recommend it.”
Lovan started her business in 2021 as a simple plant shop but wanted something more. Now, she sells plant subscription boxes where customers can get plants delivered to their door every month. She is hoping to see an increase in participation from the community after being mentioned in the guide.
“Sharing our business publicly with the community always has positive effects,” Lovan said. “I love to be a resource for the plant community whether it be plant related, a safe rental space, offering donations, hosting plant swaps, vendor events, etc.”
Lovan said she knew “very little” about DSMG before being mentioned but hopes to work with them in the future after this.
“I hope we can be a great help to the group as well,” Lovan said. “It would be fun to do a collab this year and host a fun get-together or something plant related for the community.”
Lovan said she is hoping to see an increase in participation from the community after being mentioned in the guide.
“Our first event of the year is scheduled for Feb. 25,” Lovan said. “So, I hope to meet some new faces that by chance saw the shoutout from DSMG.”
Lovan is now a supporter of DSMG.
“I believe the DSMG account is a wonderful resource for the community,” Lovan said. “They are real people with real-life experiences to offer and guide us to some amazing Des Moines opportunities.”
Chicchelly is in the process of launching a paid promotion model to work with more businesses. Before this, she and her team did everything as volunteer work. They did accept money last year, but it went straight into growing DSMG.
“We are not profitable at this point,” Chicchelly said. “It’s really just been that we love the work. So, now that strategy is shifting where I’m saying, ‘We’ve clearly proven our impact, so let’s talk about what it means to have paid placement options.’”
But, Chicchelly said she is always willing to work with small businesses and will not turn away someone who needs help. She said the idea is not to “nickel and dime” small businesses.
“The idea is that the team has worked so hard and so it’s compensating them for their time,” Chicchelly said.
DSMG has other new ideas for the future as well.
“I want to continue growing with Des Moines,” Chicchelly said. “Evolving the channel to meet the needs. Both what the audience and the folks in my DMs are telling me they want to see, but also however the small business community evolves.”
Chicchelly said she would be open to starting podcasts, video series, weekly newsletters and/or whatever tools the community wants to see.
Chicchelly said the meetups are mostly women as her current demographic is women ages 18-35, but only because she is a 29-year-old woman and knows how to market to that perspective. In the future, she wants it to be more inclusive.
“The idea is that it’s all of this demographic of audience can see themselves in the content and it’s a channel to support that audience,” Chicchelly said. “So, it’s like everyone is the Des Moines girl. It’s certainly not intended to be gendered in any way.”
Currently, Chicchelly holds monthly meetups with her team. In the past, it was a time for her and her team to bond and share new ideas. But now they are opening it up to anyone who wants to come in hopes of creating and showcasing a community and creating connections. Chicchelly said she hopes to see Drake students there.
“This is just an opportunity to meet people across the entire city,” Chicchelly said. “And just give you another opportunity to come and feel connected to the larger community.”
Chicchelly said she would like to know how she can better showcase the work DSMG does so she can grow the audience, especially to support the Drake community.
“I am thrilled to hear that Drake students use it…I would love to hear from the Drake student community if there’s more that they would like to see that would be helpful,” Chicchelly said.
Sophomore Savannah Ervin already has an idea for DSMG.
“Some things I would like to see from Des Moines Girl that I haven’t yet are more activities involving the arts,” Ervin said.
Chicchelly said she would continue the work with DSMG and showcase Des Moines as long as there is a demand for it.
“Des Moines is a cute, fun little city,” Chicchelly said. “It’s not going to blow your mind like New York would, but it’s also not going to smell like New York would.”