The bookstore in the alley is hoping to become the bookstore on a key downtown Evanston street.
But the city’s Economic Development Committee did not go along Wednesday night with a $475,000 grant request from Nina Barrett, owner of Bookends and Beginnings.
The panel instead recommended only $83,000 in city aid, while promising to see if there’s another way to come up with more to help pay for the move.
Barrett needs to vacate her quirky and well-loved shop in Bookman’s Alley by the end of January.
She told the EDC that her new landlord more than doubled the rent for the alley location, making it financially impossible to stay put.
“No one starts a bookstore to make money,” Barrett said, of the low-margin business.
But no one wants to lose money either.
Barrett said she was not happy asking the city for money, but “I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t a crisis.”
She has found a new home at 1620 Orrington Ave., in the now-vacant La Macchina restaurant site, just steps from the heart of downtown.
“I want to be part of the post-COVID revitalization of Fountain Square,” Barrett said.
But she also noted that with the rent increase and the need to leave coming so quickly, she “does not have reserves to pay for the move.”
Barrett was hoping the city would be able to use federal ARPA COVID relief dollars to cover her $475,000 request.
But city staff said this type of project is not eligible for ARPA money.
Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmezak was able to find $83,000 in usable cash from other city funds.
Committee members all sympathized with Barrett’s plight. Bookends and Beginnings is known around the region, perhaps even the nation, for its knowledgeable staff and cozy atmosphere.
Ald. Claire Kelly (1st) said a place like Bookends and Beginnings is “the fabric of our downtown community.”
“What we are selling,” Barrett said, is not only books. “It’s also a place that people want to visit as a literary destination.”
But at this point, moving to a new literary destination a few blocks away is still up in the air.
Besides recommending that full city council okay the $83,000, committee members also told Barrett to come back next month with other potential options for the finding the rest of the money.
Development committee members were, for the most part, unwilling to have a city grant cover the entire $475,000 price tag. The city normally caps its aid at 25% of a project’s cost.
One possibility, suggested by Ald. Devon Reid (8th) was a low-or-no-interest loan from the city, which Barrett indicated could be very helpful.
Bookends and Beginnings has to be out of its current Bookman’s Alley location by the end of January.
City Council will take up the $83,000 grant, and whatever else may be proposed, at its Dec. 12 meeting.
Barrett told Evanston Now that she’s been “very distressed” trying to save her nine-year-old business.
But, she also added “I have more fight in me. I don’t want this business to die.”