The Czech Cottage is a small shop at the intersection of Sixteenth Avenue and C Street in Southwest Cedar Rapids. Founded in 1975 by Jitka, Virgil and Bob Schaffer (the son). Jitka was born and raised in Czechoslovakia and came to Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1947 to visit an aunt of her sister in law. During her visit, the communist government came to power in Czechoslovakia. During the year after WWII and prior to her departure for the USA, Jitka had been a civilian employee at the military air base in Plzen, with the new communist government in power, relatives warned her not be be in a hurry to return and it was very unlikely, given her time in the US, that she would get her old job back. In 1948, the borders of Czechoslovakia were closed to visitors as the government set about nationalizing all private enterprises/businesses.
In the following years, Jitka became a naturalized U.S. citizen, met and married Virgil and had two sons. In 1956, the Czechoslovak government allowed visitors and Jitka, along with two other Czech ex-patriot gal friends returned to Czechoslovakia for a visit. Jitka would continue to make annual visits to family and friends.
Over the many years of visiting Czechoslovakia, Jitka began to import antiques and when they became more scarce and expensive, she imported folk arts, glassware and garnet jewelry.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa has a rather large Czech population, most arrived around the early 1900's because of available farm land and plentiful industrial and meat packing jobs. A small business district sprang up to serve the immigrant population consisting of meat markets, grocers, blacksmith, everything you would find in a small town and it existed next to the official downtown of Cedar Rapids.
With the aging of the immigrant population and the decline of heavy industry in Cedar Rapids, this commercial district began to deteriorate. In 1974, during one of America's recessions, the remaining Czech business owners along with others of Czech ancestry began an effort to revitalize and re-brand the area and so Czech Village was born. One morning in our local paper, the Cedar Rapids Gazette, Jitka read the front page article announcing this revitalization effort. She immediately convinced me (Bob) to go with her to have a look at a building that was for sale in this Czech Village.
The building was built in 1898 and was home to a series of pharmacies, Zastra, Tichy and then Ted Rejsa. The building bore the name Ted's Pharmacy from the early 1040's until 1973 when Ted's son in law Stan Travnicek sold his business to Drug Town (Hy Vee Drug). The building was then rented to several short time businesses that included used clothing and a natural foods store. We took possession of the building in July 1975 and by September, after a lot of sweat and remodeling, opened the Czech Cottage during one of the Czech Village fall festivals....
The Czech Village is approximately 3 blocks long from the Cedar River to just beyond D Street in Southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa and many towns that surround it, have long been known for a very large population of immigrants from Bohemia and Moravia during the period of roughly 1864 through the early 1900's.
Like many immigrant groups, they tended to cluster together in certain neighborhoods and establish their own business district complete with everything you might find in any small town, hardware store, blacksmith, meat markets, grocers, doctors, lawyers... and so it was with this area of Cedar Rapids. For years it was called Bohemie town and there was a time in it's history, if you didn't speak Czech, it could be a little difficult to do business in some shops.
This business district was nicely positioned just off the official down town Cedar Rapids and very much in the heart of industry, meat processing, corn processing and heavy equipment manufacturing, plentiful well paying jobs. It was a very vibrant little down town, just off down town.
In the late 1960's to early 70's as heavy industry waned and the original Czech immigrants aged and retired, the district began to deteriorate and developed a reputation as a sort of rough part of town.
In early 1974, the remaining Czech business owners along with other interested Czechs in Cedar Rapids began an effort to re-vitalize the area and re-brand it as the Czech Village, a shopping, dining tourist attraction. The mayor of Cedar Rapids at the time, the late Don Canney, was quick to support the effort. Urban renewal $were spent to provide more parking behind the shops that lined 16th Avenue along with street scape renovations and tree planting.
In addition to city help, there was also the local Czech community effort to establish a Czech Museum. The Czech Fine Arts Foundation Inc. was created for that purpose and is now known as the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library...
more to come...