Bookends & Beginnings owner Nina Barrett addresses Economic Development Committee Wednesday night at the Civic Center.

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.

The interior of the Bookends and Beginnings, in an image from the store’s Facebook page.

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.”

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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  1. ““No one starts a bookstore to make money,” Barrett said, of the low-margin business.”

    If your business acumen is poor, then that is on you. Don’t think that you are entitled to the monies of others because your “dream” project was not economically viable. This reminds me a bit of that old fable “The Grasshopper and the Ant” – except that today he is “Entitled Ant” who “cries victim”, demanding that total strangers bail him out of the dire straits which he has put himself in…

  2. We have restaurants asking for taxpayer money, we have a bookstore asking for taxpayer money, and now I’m getting in line to ask for taxpayer money. Please, my HOA fee just went up!!

  3. I believe the Economic Development Committee approved $650K in tax increment financing for Soul & Smoke restaurant last month but won’t support this core, unique, downtown business owner that wants to stay in Evanston? I suggest she consider Wilmette or Skokie instead.

    1. How about the City of Evanston stops giving money to private businesses, period? Why are we doing this?

      1. David, unfortunately with our City’s haphazard, inconsistent, and uninformed approach to business development, many precedents have been set that are then leveraged by other businesses.

        The City should look into why a landlord is doubling the rent which seems unethical and unreasonable for any tenant. Many of our downtown buildings are not owned locally with some landlords even living out of the country. Not unique to Evanston but more impactful in a city of our size.

  4. It interesting that their rent has doubled when there is an article today about the high vacancy rate in DT Evanston. Is documentation available to support the claim?

    Maybe they need to think about alternative revenue. I’d be curious how many customers would sign up to be subscribers at $5 month. Or perhaps this store needs to be a coop owned by its fans.

    The city needs to provide an environment conducive to a thriving downtown. Cherry picking businesses and subsidizing is bad policy. $475,000 would go along way to providing better downtown experience.

  5. How is propping up unprofitable business with taxpayer money economic development? I too enjoy used bookstores but the Alders fuzzy feeling about how this business is the “Fabric” of downtown or how restaurants like Hecky’s are crucial to the identity of Evanston and deserves free money are just personal feelings. The complexion of a city changes over time, get over it. Your feelings and nostalgia are not the taxpayer’s responsibility.

  6. This is a problem that a private business should get her own funding. Where does it make sense that my tax dollars go to pay for a private business on top of the tax and money I would spend on said goods? As for her margins look at The Bookstall in Winnetka, I bet they don’t ask for taxpayer dollars in fact they are thriving. Sorry but her shop in the alley was not friendly to shop in perhaps that’s one reason she had low margins. Not to mention if you don’t live in Evanston you didn’t even know there was a book store in the alley.

  7. Nina has had the best 9 years of controlled rent, she was paying $8 or $9 sq. Ft.

    Yes, it has doubled, but it’s still under $20 sq. Ft. when the average in Evanston is $30-$40 sq. Ft.

    1. Remember that the current building they are in has no plumbing, so good luck to the landlord in finding another tenant if the rent is going up.

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