Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) rallied supporters Thursday night to push the City Council to provide more money to a local bookstore when three economic development grants come up for approval Monday.

“I don’t want to see this lovely, unique bookstore replaced with a formula, big box business,” Kelly told a handful of residents at a virtual ward meeting.

Bookends & Beginnings, now located at 1712 Sherman Ave., is planning to move to 1620 Orrington Ave.

The move was prompted by a rent increase from $8 to $18 per square foot — a new rate that the city’s economic development manager, Paul Zalmezak, says is still below the downtown average of $27 per square foot.

Because half of the proposed new 4,000 square foot space is on the basement level of the Hahn Building, Zalmezak says, the new rent overall is comparable to the cost of the existing location.

The three funding requests the City Council is scheduled to review have dramatically different characteristics.

ProjectSourceProject CostRequestEDC OK’dCity %
C&W MarketTIF$1.56M$634K$560K36%
Whole and Free FoodsARPA$11.35M$550K$550K5%
Bookends & BeginningsEDF$476K$476K$83K17%

Clarence and Wendy Weaver of C&W Market and Ice Cream Parlor want to buy and renovate the building at 1901 Church St. that houses their shop and a number of other storefront businesses plus several apartments on the second floor.

The project qualifies for funding through the West Evanston Tax Increment Financing District, which has a balance of $4.1 million.

The city contribution recommended by the committee amounts to 36% of the total cost — somewhat less than the 41% the Weavers had asked for

Trish Thomas of Whole & Free Foods plans to lease 27,000 square feet of vacant space at 2021 Autobarn Place as a manufacturing facility and commercial kitchen that is projected to create more than 50 new jobs.

City staff says that project qualifies for funding under the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The EDC agreed with the request that the city pick up 5% of the overall project cost.

Nina Barrett.

Nina Barrett, of Bookends & Beginnings had asked the city to fully fund the $476,000 cost of relocating the bookstore.

Barrett says she wants the new store to look good — more like the Colectivo coffee shop than the former Market Fresh Books store.

“If you remember what the Radio Shack felt like before Colectivo — they’ve done a brilliant job of making it appear rustic and beautiful — but that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars of design cost,” Barrett told residents at the meeting.

By contrast, she says, Market Fresh Books “felt like a big empty box with distressed bookcases that didn’t have a vibe.”

“We want to build something more on the Colectivo side,” Barrett added, “and it’s just not a cheap thing to do.”

But Zalmezak says the project does not qualify for ARPA funding, and since it also isn’t in a tax increment financing district that left the only available funding source the city’s Economic Development Fund — which as the budget year comes to a close has a remaining balance of just under $83,000.

The committee recommended that City Council approve what’s left in that fund for the bookstore.

Meanwhile Bookends & Beginnings has launched a GoFundMe campaign, which as of 10:30 Friday morning had raised more than $64,000 toward a $250,000 goal.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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4 Comments

  1. I find these gofundme campaigns by privately-held, for-profit businesses a bit strange. I am not sure why anyone would just give you money without receiving an equity stake in the enterprise. That’s how normal businesses finance their expansion. Or you go to a bank.

    If a bank or an investor is not willing to loan/give you money, you should probably be rethinking your business model rather than begging for donations.

    Without offering an equity stake or being transparent about the current balance sheets, it would make me very skeptical about handing money over.

    Last year 4 Suns Juice on Main St. said they needed $75,000 to keep their doors open. Well, the gofundme apparently only raised $14,000 and they remain open. Great for them, but how did they bridge the $60,000 gap?

    It makes you skeptical about the real need for the ask.

    People are free to give their money away to whomever they want. The whole gofundme thing still strikes me as strange.

    1. Hank- first of all- big fan of your work both at Goldman and as Treasury Secretary.

      But back to the point at hand- if private individuals wish to give a business their money without getting anything in return, that’s their decision. I wouldn’t do it, but it’s not my problem.

      But what we have here is the City of Evanston handing out taxpayer money to private businesses, thereby picking winners and losers. I don’t think COE has any business giving money to private businesses, whether it’s a grant or a loan or whatever. As you point out, businesses ought to be supported by their private investors, their private lenders and their customers. If the combination of those three stakeholders don’t provide enough support for the business to survive, then the business ought to go under. It’s as simple as that.

    2. Hank,

      I think donations to for-profit businesses are becoming more common. Many YouTube channels use Patreon for funding, and there there is at least one retail store in Evanston that uses that or something similar. IMO, the approach is warranted when the value of the the operation operates outside of what it does to generate revenue as a business. For example, newspapers make their money selling ads, but readers do not subscribe because they want the ads. So when their approach to advertising gets beaten by technology, then finding another source of funding make sense.

      While there are differing opinions, some would say that a book store serves as a hub for a community, and even if they cannot make enough selling books to cover all costs, especially capital costs like redesign, then outside “free capital” is a reasonable way to go. Whether or not that free capital should come from a government or private donations is another complicated matter.

      1. The government funding argument would be that a bookstore catalyzes people to come into the downtown area, who then shop and eat and drink elsewhere, helping other businesses and bringing additional sales taxes. So, public benefit that the bookstore doesn’t reap through its own sales.

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