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Charles City poll results show public’s discomfort levels in ‘new reality’

To The Press

A majority of Charles City residents responding to a poll say they are still reluctant to attend large public events, indoors or outdoors, and a majority are also still unsure about dining in at restaurants.

More than half, however, said they feel comfortable shopping in person at small businesses, according to an online Pulse Poll organized by the Community Revitalization program of Charles City in conjunction with Main Street Iowa.

The poll, which ran July 2-15, asked people to provide input on 16 questions, with 683 responses representing about 9% of the community’s population.

Charles City poll results show public’s discomfort levels in ‘new reality’“Our goal was to try and get a 10% sampling, so we feel pretty good about the response and appreciate the public’s assistance,” said Community Development Director Mark Wicks.

“Your responses will be valuable to our efforts, and the efforts of Charles City businesses, to welcome you back to a clean, safe, and comfortable setting; and to strategize and prioritize actions as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Information was collected anonymously and focused on how long people were waiting to return to businesses, restaurants and public events, as well as their comfort levels in doing so.

Some of the poll results:

Feel comfortable attending a large outdoor event with appropriate social distancing in place:

• Now – 33.8%.
• Another month or two – 15.7%.
• Three to nine months – 28.5%.
• More than nine months or unknown – 22.0%.

Feel comfortable attending a large indoor event with appropriate social distancing guidelines in place:

• Right now – 22.5%
• Another month or two – 10.8%
• Three to nine months – 34.9%
• More than nine months – 23.3%
• Not sure – 8.5%

Feel comfortable shopping in person at local small businesses:

• Now – 55.5%.
• Another month or two – 20.2%.
• Three to nine months – 16.7%

Feel comfortable returning to restaurant dining rooms:

• Now – 41.6%
• Another month or two – 17.6%
• Three to nine months – 27.2%.
• Longer than nine months – 12.6%.
• Uncertain they will return – 1%.

What away from home dining experience would you prefer?

• Regular dine-in service – 40.4%.
• Reservation-only or private seating options with socially distanced tables – 13.4%.
• Outdoor dining – 46%.

Also, 40.7% of respondents said they would like to see drive-thru, curbside and carryout dining options continue during the pandemic or become a permanent option.

As expected, the amount of online shopping increased during the pandemic, Wicks said. Respondents reported 25.6% of them increased their level of online shopping dramatically, while 37.3% said it increased somewhat.

Asked how much of their regular shopping they expect to continue online with national or global retailers now that local businesses are reopening, 26.5% said up to 20% of their shopping, while 17.4% said none. Only 13.3% reported they planned on doing 60% or more of their shopping online with non-local retailers.

Online shopping with local businesses saw similar numbers percentage-wise, other than 29.7% of the respondents who said they didn’t plan to do their shopping online if they could do it in-person.

Thinking longer term, respondents were asked what types of new or expanded retail establishments they would like to see in town. A big box variety store to replace Kmart was the number one response at 35%. Women’s clothing was next at 22.1%, followed by sporting goods/outdoors, arts/crafts/hobbies (16.4%), a bookstore (16.3%) and a shoe store (15.7%).

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, dining (51.2%) was the No. 1 reason respondents visited Charles City. That was followed by shopping (46.3%) and work (46%). The next highest reason for coming to town was banking or financial services at 28%.

Asked what types of new or expanded eating and drinking establishments they would be most likely to frequent on a consistent basis, the number one answer was drive-thru or curbside coffee shops at 70%, followed by a steakhouse (32.5%) and casual dining eatery (30.6%). A bakery garnered 22% of the vote and an Italian restaurant got 20.1%.

Protective face masks were a popular conversation point with respondents, either encouraging everyone to wear one when out in public or upset over the lack of proper use – or use at all.

“The community is not wearing face coverings whatsoever as a general statement, including many of the employees within the establishments,” one comment read. “This is outrageous and makes no sense.”

Another respondent commented, “I was feeling good about going out shopping when everyone was wearing a mask … now this month the eating places are no longer having employees wear masks and I have stopped going.” She added some that do wear masks were not wearing them properly, often under their nose.

“Encourage people to follow the guidelines,” added a third. “There are too many who aren’t … look at the ball games with people sitting together like there was nothing wrong.”

Female respondents made up nearly 60% of the poll takers, while respondents’ ages ranged from 19 or younger to 75 or older. The majority fell between 25 and 74, with the top percentage being 55-64 year olds at 18.7%.

“We will be sharing the full poll results with our businesses, restaurants and event planning committees, along with the public comments we’ve collected to assist them in their decisions on how to best attract customers and make them feel comfortable being there,” said Wicks.