Artifacts to expand into former El Banditos space

Todd Thelen stands in front of Artifacts’ packed widow displays on Thursday, July 30, 2020. — Matt Steele/Little Village

After 25 years in Iowa City’s Northside neighborhood, vintage and consignment shop Artifacts is tripling its space.

The business, located on the corner of Market and Gilbert streets, is known for its narrow aisles packed with artwork, tchotchkes, vintage clothing, toys, tools, instruments, kitchenware and much more. Owner Todd Thelen said he’s long dreamed of a bigger space, but opportunities for expansion in the past have been cost prohibitive.

When he learned neighboring restaurant El Bandito’s was closing their Market Street location, he said he jumped at the chance.

“Sadly El Banditos is closed, so this is our opportunity,” Thelen said. “It’s weird time to do it but we’re excited by it.”

Thelen is optimistic the renovations can be completed in a month. They plan to “blow a hole” in their western wall, gut the former restaurant’s space and use the wealth of new square-footage to spread out their aisles and add new items.

“There are so many times where we’d gone to estate [sales] and things and just didn’t have the space to accommodate sofas and larger pieces of furniture, so this will really be great for us,” Thelen said.

Artifacts and El Banditos in Iowa City, July 9, 2020. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

The store will likely continue to sport its signature crowded shelves — “There is never a shortage of stuff in this world.” — but the move “will just mean that when we have a dining set it won’t be covered with other items — you’ll be able to see it,” Thelen said.

He is also thrilled for the additional wall space to better display Artifact’s collection of artwork.

“I have my degree in arts, Margaret has her degree in arts, Steve had his degree in design — we’re all a bunch of artists and we have so much art, it gets piled up on the floor. Now we’ll be able to actually hang all the art that we get.”

Artifacts has been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic began in Iowa City, save for a month in June when reported case numbers dipped. The expansion will allow the business to reopen its doors to two or three customers at a time while maintaining social distancing, Thelen believes.

Business has been slow and difficult during the pandemic, he said. The store has been able to sell enough items through social media, over the phone and curbside pick-ups to pay rent and employee salaries, and a PPP loan has also helped them get by. They’ve continued to take consignments and are eager to display some of their newer acquisitions.

Artifacts in Iowa City, 331 E. Market Street, July 9, 2020. — Izabela Zaluska/Little Village

How does it feel to be expanding one’s business during a public health and economic crisis? According to Thelen: “Terrifying. It’s absolutely terrifying.”

“But the virus will end, and we’ve set aside enough money that will allow us to work on [renovations],” he said. “It’s our 25th year, so we had all kinds of big plans for a big celebration and those didn’t materialize. So this will kind of be our celebration.”

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Artifacts plans to continue to sell items online and over the phone during the expansion process, Thelen said. He encourages the public to follow them on Facebook and Instagram to stay updated on their progress.

Artifacts owner Todd Thelen hopes their expansion will be complete in a month’s time, debuting in late August or early September. — Matt Steele/Little Village