Unveiling Des Moines, One Post at a Time

Discover Des Moines through the eyes of Des Moines Girl, your go-to for all things local. 

Morgan Chicchelly might never have moved back to Des Moines if it weren’t for a global pandemic. She was living on the East Coast, working at a business consulting firm, Mosaic Strategies Group. Everything was great—until Covid hit.

Returning to Des Moines during the peak of the pandemic, Chicchelly found herself navigating a city in flux. Businesses were adapting to new restrictions, events were being canceled or reimagined, and the community was grappling with the effects of the global crisis. Despite these challenges, Chicchelly saw an opportunity to showcase Des Moines’s culture and bring people together through her blog, Des Moines Girl.

“I didn’t really see a resource… So I just decided to start it,” Chicchelly says.

The Rise of Des Moines Girl

Des Moines gets a bad rap. For decades it has been seen by coasters as a backwater, a beige city stereotyped as the last place anything happens. Chicchelly knew better, though. She grew up in Beaverdale, one of the city’s coziest neighborhoods, and went to Roosevelt High School, one of the area’s most diverse. She knew it didn’t lack the vibrancy and variety of larger cities.

“I’ve always thought of Des Moines as very cultural,” she says. “Des Moines is historically such a refugee city,”

She’s not wrong. Over the past ten years, Des Moines has seen a 39% increase in its nonwhite population, according to the U.S. Census, largely due to immigrants and refugees relocating to the city for employment opportunities or to escape conflict or refugee camps. According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Iowa’s capitol has welcomed Afghans, Congolese, Iraqis, Somalis, Sudanese, among others, since 2010, helping to grow the city’s metro to nearly 750,000.

So, when she launched Des Moines Girl (DSMG) on April 15, 2021, it was to bring those disparate communities together, especially during a time when, during the early days of reopening mid-pandemic, people were figuring out how to reconnect. She highlighted 11 weekend events people could attend in that initial post—the first of numerous Weekend Guides. Soon after came gobs of content on the first outing of the Dew Tour skateboarding competition at the then-brand-new Lauridsen Skate Park, the largest outdoor skatepark in the country situated on the edge of Des Moines’s downtown. Then came brunch promos, an ice cream guide, and live music roundups.

Since then, DSMG has grown to over 17,000 followers, many drawn by Chicchelly’s drive to stay representative of Des Moines’s diverse culture.

“I think Des Moines can be deceiving because of its size,” she says. “Des Moines has a little bit of everything you need with a lot of really good perks. I’m not here to say…it could ever compete with major big cities. But there’s something very special about the people and the ease and the size of it.”

One of the blog’s key goals is to counter the perception that smaller Midwest cities lack excitement. Sure, it’s known as a great place to raise a family—and that’s true. But it’s also close to buzzing, fueled by expanding development near its downtown, an ever-growing nightlife scene, and its burgeoning reputation as a must-stop for midsized touring acts. It gives Chicchelly and DSMG’s other contributors, a collection of other twenty-something’s, plenty to highlight, including local events like trivia nights and Taylor Swift dance parties, puppy yoga and beer stein painting parties, all with the aim to attract both newcomers and former residents back to the city.

“I hope it’s helping the small business community and the residents in Des Moines to feel more excited about the city we live in,” Chicchelly says.

Of course, since Des Moines has more than 6,500 local businesses, according to The Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Directory, Chicchelly can’t highlight them all. Her creative process, instead, involves discovering each naturally, choosing what’s worth showing to her audience, and creating content that highlights the city’s offerings. She carefully curates her blog to ensure that it reflects what she sees as the true essence of Des Moines, steering clear of the conventional tourist spots. Instead she aims to focus on the authentic experiences that make the city special, like the vibrant local music scene, hidden art galleries tucked away in historic neighborhoods, and the diverse culinary offerings from local eateries.

Events Bringing People Together

Chicchelly has even gotten into the game herself. DSMG hosted its first event in May of 2023, literally hitting the ground running with a 5k race targeted at women. Then came “Pitch a Friend” in October of 2023, where people presented PowerPoints about their besties in hopes of getting them a date. Forty singles showed up. Since then, there have been dance parties, open-house get-togethers, and several more “Pitch a Friend” events, as well as the upcoming second annual DSMG 5k on May 4. Those participating in the event can engage in all-day activities such as yoga, meditation, and a vendor market leading up to the 5k.

“For the brand to be involved in [the 5k], that was very, very special because it’s something that I literally did with my girlfriends because I was integrating back into the city,” Chicchelly says.

All these events have helped Chicchelly and her crew grow the DSMG community. When Emy Hayes, a student from Drake University, first moved to Des Moines for school, every Top 10 guide to the city featured the same ten things. She exhausted that list in two days. But on DSMG, she learned about DSMG’s events—and that’s something no one else had spoken of online.

“All of the events they put on and promote are relevant to the people around DSM that do want to get involved in the community,” Hayes says.

As a result, Hayes found her community.

“My friends and I love having something to look forward to, whether that is a small event during the week or something centered around holidays. We went to a Christmas pop-up bar that was on DSM Girls’ page after going to see The Nutcracker at the Civic Center and that is one of my favorite memories with them,” Hayes says.

Those kinds of stories are what keep Chicchelly invested in the blog and in creating events. She loves Des Moines’s understated charm and wants others to discover it too.

“Give yourself grace. Des Moines is not gonna blow your socks off on Day 4,” she says. “It’s going to take a little bit of time for you to understand why it feels the way it does…there’s a special something there. There is a version of that, most likely for you if you want to find it.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *