Spencer Smith the elf is seen at the Iowa Artisans Gallery in Iowa City on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. The Iowa City Downtown District has organized an elf scavenger hunt at downtown businesses. (Nick Rohlman/The Daily Iowan)

Holiday season in Iowa City


The Iowa City Downtown District offers many festive events throughout the holiday season each year.

By Emily Wangen

As the year comes to a close, Iowa City is celebrating the Holiday Season with a myriad of events for all members of the community.

Downtown District special-events assistant Christopher Hunter said he has seen students, community members, and children taking part in the holiday events, and that creates a feeling of community in Iowa City.

“Everyone’s happy and excited to see what’s going on, coming together, and participating in what we’re getting to offer,” Hunter said.

The Downtown Hunt for Elves is a kid-friendly scavenger hunt around downtown inside local businesses that started Nov. 23 and will run until the end of the month.

“It’s more catered toward the kids, but there have been a couple of adults participating this year,” Hunter said.

Participating businesses name and hide an elf somewhere in their store alongside cards that say the name of the elf and the location where they were found.

Once participants find 15 of the many elves downtown, they can turn the cards to the Englert, Iowa Book, or the Children’s Room at the Iowa City Public Library to receive a prize and be entered to win a grand prize.

Another activity for kids is visiting Santa Claus at FilmScene located on the Pedestrian Mall from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. Visitors get to meet Santa and take photos.

RELATED: Downtown District brings holiday cheer with holiday market pop-up

Another holiday tradition in Iowa City is the horse-drawn carriage rides through downtown on Saturdays. The last day of rides will be held 11:30 a.m to 2:30 p.m. Saturday starting outside Hills Bank and Trust on South Clinton Street. However, Hunter encourages those who wish to take a ride to show up early because people begin reserving times at 11 a.m.

A new addition to the holiday celebrations in Iowa City is the holiday market pop-up shop in Black Hawk Mini Park on the Pedestrian Mall. The holiday market began as a one-day event held in a heated tent in the same location, but Potter said the idea for a pop-up shop was implemented after finding a need for a better environment from the retailers.

The shops were designed by Sanjay Jani of AKAR Architecture and were modeled after a corn crib, a ventilated structure for storing unhusked corn, found in the Iowa countryside.

“It’s a really phenomenal, beautiful design, and I think one of the reasons it was chosen is because they really looked at it and put forth a retail-driven design,” Downtown District Director of Operations Betsy Potter said. “Other places use storage units or they use pod containers, which is fun and kind of clever, but they really don’t get down to a good retail shopping environment.”

The shops have featured popular Iowa City destinations such as Molly’s Cupcakes and RAYGUN, and they will run for two more weekends.

Part of the pop-up shop is the Mystery Giving Shop, which began on Monday and will run on Monday through Wednesday both this week and next. All of the items are wrapped with two clues written on them. The proceeds from the shop will support United Way of Johnson and Washington Counties.

“Everyone has so much support for what the Downtown District does,” Ellys Barkley of the Downtown District said. “It just brings people to the downtown area.”

Hunter said the joy the community has with the holiday events is his favorite part of the holidays in Iowa City.

“Seeing them excited and hearing all the positive feedback from the community and individuals just makes me excited, because we’re helping bring that to them,” Hunter said.

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