More than 40 small businesses in eastern Iowa are hosting an event today and tomorrow called the Rural Road Trip as a way to bring customers into smaller towns and support those rural merchants.

Mallary Snakenberg owns the Feathered Farmhouse, a home decor gift shop just east of Sigourney, and she launched the effort in 2019 using maps you can download for free from the Rural Road Trip Facebook page.

“There’ll be a big circle basically that this map creates,” Snakenberg says, “and we have printable maps and we also have GPS maps, and all of the map stops are open during the same hours.”

The Rural Road Trip only happens three times a year, in the spring, this weekend for fall, and a holiday edition in late November. Snakenberg says she and the other merchants are focused on customer service and small town friendly, something you won’t likely find shopping at giant online retailers. All of the points on the map are within about ten or 15 minutes of one another.

“A lot of them are occasional shops and so you only hit them certain weekends,” Snakenberg says. “This way, you’re hitting all those occasional shops in the same weekend. Everybody has the same hours and it’s a great chance to explore little towns and just rural areas. We’re kind of out in the middle of nowhere and a lot of these other shops are, too.”

The various businesses are scattered between communities like Oxford, Marengo, Kalona, Keota and North English, towns many Iowans may only know from the green signs along Interstate 80. She says it’s time to explore local treasures this weekend.

“A lot of them are home decor, vintage items, clothing boutiques, stuff like that,” Snakenberg says, “and then we also have sponsors who are a lot of our restaurants, bars, things like that, so you can eat your way through the map as well as shop.”

Each Rural Road Trip carries the slogan: “Small Shops – Huge Hearts.” She says it’s a way to bring awareness to fundraisers for area families or a need. The fall edition is to benefit Hank Thompson, a local two-year-old who’s battling cancer.