Branding Mason City's North End Business District

Academic Year 
Business: Marketing Institute
Project Partner 
Led by 

Juniors in the Tippie College of Business Marketing Institute will develop brand alternatives for Mason City’s North End Commercial District, with a goal of uniting the area’s current and future small business owners under a common effort to attract customers and revitalize the neighborhood. 

Elected officials, business leaders, and community advocates have recognized the essential role of the Mason City’s North End neighborhood in the overall development and sustainability of the broader community.  New restaurants, services, and improvements in streets and public spaces present an opportunity to capitalize on recent positive momentum in the neighborhood, which has suffered in recent decades from a series of setbacks- the loss of large employers in the neighborhood, housing instability, and big box retail development in other areas of town have all contributed to economic decline, as well as generally negative perceptions (sometimes misperceptions) of the neighborhood.  While some see blight and instability, many advocates and neighborhood residents feel a strong sense of social cohesiveness and opportunity. 

The North End neighborhood is home to 6 restaurants, 1 bar, 11 auto oriented businesses, 3 gas stations, 6 retail establishments including two liquor stores, Family Dollar, a tobacco store, an antique store, and an appliance store, and 11 other businesses, including a photographer, karate studio, hair salon, lumber distributor, and self-storage facility. The commercial corridor on Federal Avenue also has approximately 12 vacant storefronts.  Among the restaurants are two that have opened in the past year, as well as Northwestern Steakhouse, which was named the “most iconic” steakhouse in Iowa by Thrillist, an online travel and food magazine.

These businesses do not all exist within a compact commercial district, but are generally stretched along North Federal Avenue, which serves as a gateway to Mason City for visitors coming from the north.  The commonality among these business is the fact that they are located in the “North End”, which is a well-known and oft-discussed area of the Mason City. 

Previous efforts have been made to capitalize on the historic qualities of the neighborhood.  Most notably, a Facebook group ( exists to share events and other neighborhood information, and has a large following of over 1,200 “likes”. 

To coincide with current development and planning activity (including North End neighborhood plan being developed by graduate students in the UI School of Urban & Regional Planning), Mason City community partners seek to generate new excitement and commercial activity with a strong brand and identity.  A successful brand will serve both to attract customers to the district, as well as new businesses. 

An important component of developing the brand will include gathering input and buy-in from existing businesses.  Small business owners and property owners should see value in connecting with and boosting the collective brand.