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Women aim to revitalize Swisher

Downtown business owners uniting for Nov. 5 block party
Co-owners Rebekah Neuendorf and Sonya LaGrange stand outside the new Black Squirrel Tap & Beer Garden in October. The two are part of a female coalition set on revitalizing downtown Swisher. (photo by Shianne Fisher)

SWISHER– The namesake of the rebranded bar in downtown Swisher is no doubt obvious to current residents, but the stories behind the “Main Street” boutiques may only be familiar to natives.
Rebekah Neuendorf, co-owner of Black Squirrel Tap & Beer Garden, open since August at the old Shooter’s locale, said choosing the bar’s name was fairly straightforward.
“Everybody who comes into town notices the black squirrels,” she said. “For the local people, they know they’re here. It kind of becomes a cool story and good talking point.”
When the bar went up for sale in the spring, Neuendorf said she and partner Sonya LaGrange thought it was important somebody local take over the business, which has changed hands multiple times in its recent history.
“We had a vision for something we saw that could be a great, integral part of Swisher and always has been,” said Neuendorf, who is also a Swisher City Council member. “There are a lot of locals that have been coming here for years and years, and we just wanted to see that continue.”
The bar may appear seemingly unchanged to regulars, but LaGrange said they’ve expanded the menu, updated the decorating, switched out some arcade games and poured a new concrete bar top.
“The change in ownership was definitely major,” said Neuendorf. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in local traffic and new traffic coming in from out of town.”
That includes former Hawkeye footballers Marvin McNutt and Chuck Long, who both have Black Squirrel drinks named after them.
LaGrange said the bar now offers more craft beer and has partnered with nearby Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery to feature its award-winning whiskeys. The Káva House & Café, located right up the street, also smokes meat for the bar’s Thursday night food specials.
And, on Mondays, it’s kids’ night at Black Squirrel.
“We’re trying to make it a little more family-friendly,” said LaGrange, who also co-owns the new Vault Boutique with her mother Dawn Terrell.
Purchasing the building came out of nowhere, she said.
“We weren’t really looking,” she said. “We went and toured it and thought, wow that would make a really neat boutique and then just decided to run with it.”
Vault sells clothes, home décor and other gift items– a lot of which are local and handmade. As for naming the boutique “Vault,” the building used to house the original Swisher Bank, before it moved to its current location.
LaGrange, a lifetime Swisher resident, said downtown business owners are trying to bring the town back to life.
“There used to be a lot to do here in town, and it’s just kind of slowly dwindled away,” she said.
The three women, along with Plum Creek Boutique owner Jean Hynek and Káva House owner Karen Vondracek, are throwing a fall block party Saturday, Nov. 5, during the Women’s Improvement League of Swisher (WILOS) Ladies Day Out at the American Legion. The annual craft fair supports WILOS, a nonprofit that gives back to the Swisher community by providing college scholarships and supporting families in need.
“It’s just a good way to give back to our community,” said Hynek, a WILOS member.
The craft fair is hosted at the Legion from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We just chose that to make it a big town event,” said LaGrange. “We’re all working together to promote everything downtown.”
The day will feature beer tasting by Lion Bridge Brewing Company and whiskey sampling by Cedar Ridge, as well as live music. The two boutiques will also have marked-down items on display.
Hynek said all four businesses are turning over a new leaf, and at Plum Creek, which underwent a major remodel over the past several months, the change is noticeable.
“I would’ve never thought this building, when it was built in 1800-whatever, would look this good,” she said.
Hynek, who rents the space, opened the boutique in 2006 and named it after another local feature: the creek that runs just west of town. While the majority of the space is dedicated to gifts and accessories, Hynek also does manicures and pedicures and has a tanning bed.
Although the boutique’s grand re-opening is set for Dec. 10 to coincide with Swisher’s holiday festival, it will be open in time for the Nov. 5 event. And Hynek said the gift area has increased by a hundred percent.
“Things downtown here are shaping up,” she added.