Biz Buzz: New Dubuque home decor business; Darlington boutique to close; restaurant expansion stifled by COVID-19

Biz Buzz shares business tidbits from around the tri-state area. This week, we highlight developments in Dubuque and Dyersville, Iowa, and Darlington, Wis.

For any entrepreneur, balancing the rigors of work and family life can present challenges.

Throw a pandemic into the mix, and it becomes even more difficult.

Dubuque resident Amy Kempen launched Hometown Expressions, a business specializing in home decor, out of her home in late 2019. During its first year, she has led a thriving business while meeting the growing needs of her family.

A mother of four, Kempen said her children are taking classes from home during the pandemic.

“Normally, I’d send my kids off to school for the day,” she said. “That hasn’t happened this year, so it’s made (operating) the business a bit more complicated. It is not uncommon to pull some very, very late nights. A few nights ago, I didn’t go to bed until 5 a.m.”

The long hours have paid off for Kempen, whose mix of handmade home decor has found a loyal group of customers in Dubuque and surrounding areas. While she sells a variety of products, her customized wooden signs have proven to be the most popular.

Kempen creates the products within her home on Marywood Drive and allows many customers to pick up the product at her residence. Her creations also are sold at Carol Ann Boutique & Body, 3337 Hillcrest Road.

In 2020, the demand for Kempen’s products has ebbed and flowed. However, she said she’s been pleased overall with the support.

“At first, when (the pandemic) started, it seemed like everyone was very conscious of buying things locally and they went out of their way to do that,” she said. “I did notice a lull midway through the year. Now that we’re approaching Christmastime, there has been a definite pickup.”

Hometown Expressions can be reached at or by calling 563-583-5819.


After a quarter-century in business, a Darlington entrepreneur will bid farewell to her business and embrace retirement.

Marilyn’s, a women’s clothing store at 238 Main St., will close its doors on Dec. 15, according to owner Marilyn Hill.

The closure will mark the end of an era for many Darlington customers.

Hill opened a shop at 238 Main in the fall of 1996. The business was initially known as Antiques & Accents. It later adopted the name Marilyn’s and pursued a new business model geared toward clothing and accessories.

At various points, the business also sold a wide selection of gifts.

“We’ve evolved over the years,” Hill recalled. “My business has changed directions as the market changed.”

For a variety of reasons, Hill determined it was time to close up shop.

She noted that it was difficult for her business to adapt to new consumer trends that increasingly favored online purchases. Moreover, she said scheduled construction in Darlington over the coming years likely would create additional difficulties.

Still, Hill acknowledged stepping away from her longtime business won’t be easy.

“I have always enjoyed change, and in the clothing business, the changing of the seasons is always an interesting time,” she said. “Mostly, I will miss my customers. I am a people person, and I always enjoyed them.”

Prior to its closing date, Marilyn’s will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

The business can be reached at 608-776-3070.


A Dyersville restaurant unveiled its new dining area earlier this month, marking the culmination of a highly anticipated expansion and renovation project.

However, the dining room was forced to close just days later due to the ongoing threats posed by COVID-19.

Chad’s Pizza & Restaurant, 108 First Ave. W, opened its revamped facility to dine-in customers on Nov. 12,

according to owner Chad Clouse. The dining space served as the centerpiece of a monthslong renovation project, which also included modernizing the kitchen

Clouse said the changes were an immediate hit among customers.

“We had tons of positive feedback,” he said. “People were happy to have a meal here, sit down and enjoy the new atmosphere.”

But reality hit home quickly.

On Nov. 16, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered a statewide mask mandate and imposed limitations on operating hours for bars and restaurants.

To Clouse, the order was another reminder of the severity of the virus. He quickly decided to close the dining room.

“It wasn’t just the order (that prompted that decision),” he said. “We’ve been following the numbers and percentages in Dubuque County pretty closely. We were hoping to see a decrease, and what we actually saw was an increase.”

For now, Chad’s Pizza will continue to offer delivery and pick-up options for its customers.

The restaurant hasn’t set a firm date for the reopening of its dining room, but Clouse estimates that will occur in early 2021.

Chad’s Pizza is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. It can be reached at 563-875-2483.