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Are ‘f-sounds’ the key to Evanston’s business future?

The leader of Evanston's economic development efforts says the business categories that may thrive here post-pandemic have something in common.

Cutting the ribbon at Urban Athlete.

Food. Fitness. Finance. Fashion. Phones. Physicians. And fingers.

Evanston’s economic development manager Paul Zalmezak says business categories that have an “f-sound” at the beginning of their names will play a major role in how Evanston comes out of the pandemic-related downturn.

Before continuing, however, let’s explain what “fingers” means. Nail salons. Fingers.

Late Thursday afternoon, two stores with an “f”-related focus saw ribbon cuttings to celebrate their recent openings.

First, fitness. Urban Athlete, in the 1000 block of Davis Street, is a fitness and workout studio. It takes the place of another workout site, Spenga, that closed last year.

Landlord Mark Cless said he was “optimistic another fitness owner would come in.”

In fact, Urban Athlete looked at the same location several years ago.

As for opening during a pandemic, co-owner Nelle Lawrence said “knowing this community, the people were really supportive. We can do this. It’s going to be fine.”

The other ribbon cutting, in the 600 block of Davis was in the “f” for fashion category. Madison Grace is a fashion boutique, in the storefront where Gigi Bottega, another fashion store, was formerly located.

In fact, Madison Grace owner Angelica D’Costa was the manager at Gigi. According to a release from Downtown Evanston, D’Costa said, “I decided to take the leap and pursue my dream of opening my own shop.”

While having two new businesses fill former vacancies is a step in the right direction, Zalmezak said there is still “a lot of work which needs to happen” for Evanston to recover.

“We need help from the businesses above the retail,” he said. In other words, office workers who shop in downtown stores need to come back. Zalmezak said that pre-pandemic, there were 30,000 employees within a mile of the two latest stores.

But now, he added, the number is nowhere close to that.

Still, Mayor Steve Hagerty expressed optimism. Right before the ribbon was cut at Urban Athlete, the mayor thanked the owners for being entrepreneurs who were “willing to take a risk” during a challenging time.

keywords » COVID-19

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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