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Flood construction may mean the end for a Coralville bar, and an uncertain future for its employees


Bar’Ber Shop Tavern
A Coralville flood wall will force the closure of The Bar’Ber Shop Tavern — photo by Adam Burke

This summer marks the eighth anniversary of the Iowa Flood of 2008. However, the flood, which left parts of the University of Iowa campus underwater and left $64 billion in property damage all told, is still not done leaving a toll on the Johnson County community. It’s latest victim: the Bar’ber Shop Tavern.

The Bar’ber Shop, a small bar and grill at 218 1st Avenue in Coralville, had been humming along smoothly until early March when owner Daniel Dickel received some bad news: “We were informed by the owner of [our] building that [the City of Coralville] had determined that the building wouldn’t be able to structurally withstand putting the floodwall in behind us here at Clear Creek which is the last stage of the flood mitigation … So they told us, ‘The building’s going to get taken down and you guys are going to have to move out.’ So, not a good day at all,” Dickel said.

According to Coralville City Attorney Kevin Olson, a confluence of factors have doomed the Bar’ber Shop’s building, including the inability of the building to withstand the construction of a subdrain and the necessary drilling underneath the building for the construction of a floodwall along with a 1966 public sanitary sewer that needs to be replaced.

Fortunately, the City of Coralville is not leaving Dickel out entirely in the cold. Because the Bar’ber Shop was put out of business by a public project, compensation is provided under the terms of the Uniform Act, a 1970 federal law which, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), ensures “minimum standards for federally funded programs and projects that require the acquisition of real property (real estate) or displace persons from their homes, businesses or farms.”

Because of this law, according to Kevin Olson, “Each tenant [including Mr. Dickel] will get an allocation for what their leasehold interest is and, if they chose to relocate, they will get relocation costs compensated for by the City.” Dickel’s employees, however, are not so lucky; as Olson explains, “Labor costs are an ‘ineligible expense’ under the federal law, so the employees cannot be compensated for losing their jobs.”

“If we can do anything good out of this situation it’s to let people know that the laws in the state of Iowa are really bad for the employees in situations like this,” Dickel says. And even Dickel himself is in a precarious position, as he still doesn’t know, three weeks from his closing date, how much the City of Coralville can provide him in compensation, so he can’t make plans for the future of the business.

This has left many of the Bar’ber Shop’s employees, who were only told about the closing a few weeks ago, in something of a limbo. Employee Kendra Strobel observed that, “Everyone here, as far as I know, hasn’t looked for any other jobs because they want to stick around to the end and it’s hard to know that you’re not going to have a job in three weeks and to be thinking ‘What are you going to do?’ Everybody’s kind of bummed and nobody really wants to leave.”

“I understand it’s not a good situation for the tenants,” Olson says, “but unfortunately that’s one of the provisions of the law that we can’t pay out to employees.”

In response to these uncertainties, Dickel, his employees and fans of the Bar’ber Shop have taken to the Internet to try to raise funds for the business and it’s employees in this time of transition. They’ve recently set up an account on GoFundMe, for people to donate to the employees. There will also be several events over the coming weeks with 100% of the proceeds going to Bar’ber Shop employees, including a benefit show on June 12 at the Tavern with house band “New Tribe” and a four-course dinner with beer pairing on June 5th. In addition, t-shirts and other merchandise are being sold on the Bar’ber Shop’s website.

“We’re reaching out, we’re hoping to get a little bit of awareness and get people to realize ‘Hey, this isn’t right, things shouldn’t go like this.’” Dickel says, arguing, “If a municipality terminates people’s jobs. they should be compensated in some manner by the state or government. We shouldn’t just be putting citizens out of work and then do nothing.”

Employees like Kendra are hoping that the community that has grown centered around The Bar’ber Shop will, in a way, come to the rescue. “The people who come in here are just the most amazing customers. They’re so chill and relaxed and they always have a great attitude. It’s just a happy place to be.”

Matthew Byrd, originally from Chicago, is currently a writer and proud resident of the People’s Republic of Johnson County. Angry screeds should be send to dibyrdie@gmail.com. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 200.

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