Demonstrators hold signs in front of the First Avenue Hy-Vee on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to protest the store’s closure. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Just hours after city leaders and Hy-Vee officials released statements regarding short-term remedies for the closure of the First Avenue grocery store and pharmacy in Cedar Rapids, dozens of protesters gathered to demand more.

“We don’t want smooth words just for public relations purposes,” said Sophia Joseph, of We Are CR, which organized the May 22 protest outside the store at 1556 First Ave. NE. “We want long-term solutions.”

Hy-Vee’s corporate office announced May 9 that the First Avenue store would close on June 23, along with stores in lower-income neighborhoods in Davenport and Waterloo.

Angel Ramirez hands out posters during the May 22 demonstration in front of the First Avenue Hy-Vee. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Among the demands Joseph noted were having Hy-Vee remain open until Sept. 1 to allow other entities to fill the gap created by the absence of the store in a core neighborhood where many residents without transportation rely on it for food and the store’s pharmacy, and to pay for people to canvass the neighborhood to inform residents of other resources, determine the scope of the need and gather input on future plans.

She said the timing of the demonstration was coincidental to the May 22 announcement by the city and Hy-Vee, which offered free transportation to other Hy-Vee stores for a limited time and within limited hours.

Read more: Cedar Rapids leaders meet with Hy-Vee officials

The Rev. Jonathan Heifner of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church and Angel Ramirez of Advocates for Social Justice also spoke at the demonstration.

Some in the crowd held signs calling for a boycott of Hy-Vee and others cited the chain’s “corporate greed.” Hy-Vee spokeswoman Tina Potthoff said in the May 22 statement that the three stores in Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Waterloo “have each been losing significant amounts of money for several years.”

Chuck Crawley remembered walking to the store from his home in Wellington Heights as a 6-year-old to buy groceries.

Chuck Crawley addresses the crowd gathered in front of the First Avenue Hy-Vee on May 22. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Crawley pointed to several liquor stores dotting First Avenue, in the area between the working class Wellington Heights and Mound View neighborhoods.

“One of the things that’s always pissed me off,” he said, “is the price of fruits, and vegetables, and milk and diapers here. They charge higher for those necessities in a place of poverty.”

Bernard Clayton of Cedar Rapids called on Hy-Vee to allow a nonprofit to open at the site of the First Avenue store, with the lease paid by the chain for the next five years. City leaders were caught off-guard by Hy-Vee’s announcement of the closure, as they had just signed a five-year lease extension.

“If they’re such a great corporate citizen, let them open up and pay for the lease for them for five years,” Clayton said.

Bernard Clayton speaks during a protest outside of the First Avenue Hy-Vee in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Advocates for Social Justice, which is calling for a boycott of Hy-Vee, has another demonstration scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, May 26, 2024, outside of the Hy-Vee at 3235 Oakland Rd. NE.

The group also started a petition at

“Cedar Rapids will not tolerate Hy-Vee abandoning our most marginalized and vulnerable communities,” the group noted, asking residents to call Hy-Vee at (515) 267-2800 or email the store at: to call for free grocery delivery to affected neighborhoods and for Hy-Vee to sublet the First Avenue location so another grocery store can use that space.

Read more: Hy-Vee requested silence on pending closure and see more photos from the protest, below: