Evanston’s Economic Development Committee voted this week to spend up to $9,000 on efforts to organize a merchants’ group in the business district around Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, whose 2nd Ward includes the neighborhood, said that one pressing issue is the image of the neighborhood.

He cited, as an example of the problem, reports that the Next Theatre company, which has rehersal space at the Evanston Plaza shopping center, has resisted the idea of creating a performance space there because some members of the group don’t believe the area is safe.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said that any such fears are unfounded. Rainey, who has a grandchild who takes classes at Dance Center Evanston in the plaza, said, “Women and little children come out of there all the time,” and its very safe.

“I’ve been there every week for the last four years,” and the notion that the area isn’t safe is just false, she added.

Plan Commissioner Seth Freeman said he lives in the neighborhood and shops at the Dominick’s supermarket at least three days a week.

“I do hear comments of peeople feeling it’s not safe. A lot of that is the feel that the mall is abandoned — a feeling that there are not enough shops or people there,” Freeman said.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said that the effort to organize the merchants’ group sould be “a signal from the city to all those businesses that we’re behind them and want to see them succeed.”

Jean-Baptiste said the merchants’ group would include business owners from the larger neighborhood, not just the shopping center.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1.  We are long time

     We are long time neighborhood residents who have been concerned about the lack if interest shown to Dempster and Dodge. Empty storefronts and safety have been concerns for the past 10 years. We have watched the decline of this mall since Kids are Us went out. The chain restaurants are student friendly, but hardly create much of a gateway coming from the West on Dempster. That coupled with the currency exchanges/Pay Day Loan store across the street have left a bad taste in this neighborhood’s mouth. We have been sold out starting with McD’s, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken. I wish I had a dime for every burger wrapper, plastic straw and beverage cup. What happened to the promises that were thrown at the residents about these businesses being responsible for their waste tossed out car windows.

    We are thrilled to hear of a  a comprehensive plan being developed and hope the residents of Dempster Street from Dodge to Asbury will come out in force to make their views known. Dominick’s and Panino’s are a huge boost to the mall and important anchors. The low rent image of most of the businesses located there over the years (Dollar stores, AJ Wright and a laundrymat) have not exactly drawn a great clientele.  When Frank’s closed it was suggested that Michael’s Crafts, Loew’s  or even a Nordstrom RACK store would be a good compliment to a grocery store and dance studio to no avail. Kohl’s Departament store or TRADER JOE’s would be great additions. Let’s look at attracting a few more family friendly restaurants or even a movie theater like the Buffalo Grove which operates in a mall in a space like the old Discovery Zone and which shows discounted, family friendly films. Next Theater is a great start.

    A police presence would be a plus. Once again the crime report this week mentions theft at CitiTrends. These small business owners should not tolerate this any longer. There is a homeless young man who has hung out in front of the Dominick’s for years panhandling. He is often high and filthy. Where are the social service agencies we pride ourselves in E-town to assist people?? Until we address the safety concerns and change the image of the Dempster Dodge mall through different businesses and improved security we will be singing the same song.

    1. Just hold out your hand.

      Since you and other residents feel slighted by the city as a whole, why don’t you ask for a piece of the pie? As reported earlier by Evanston Now (August 9th,2010) the city is planning a $16 million dollar face-lift for the Church and Dodge area. $4 million of that is coming from taxpayer’s dollars. Get your group together and demand the same “nip and tuck” for your little area. Since ETHS “has agreed to join the city in the grant application” you should also demand they help you too. Those are their students that flood Burger King and McDonalds each day after school aren’t they?. Apparently there is “free money” coming our way. You should get yours too!

    2. I’ve never been asked for money

      I am at the Dominicks at Dempster/Dodge about 2 times a week and have never been asked for money by anyone.  I love that store … clean, easy to get through and friendly staff.  Now, if only they had a starbucks it would be perfect!

  2. Dempster Dodge Victim of Poor Planning

    I agree with the previous post that the Dempster-Dodge plaza is a dump.  The main reason this is so is due to bad planning decisions made by the city years ago.

    Up until the 90s, that block was home to some sort of industrial facility.  When the industrial facility folded, the decision was made to convert the property to the big-box atrocity that we see today.

    The entire parcel should be redeveloped into  mixed-use with a sensible streetscape.    Cut the parcel in half and run the grid through it, making walkable blocks.  Have  storefront retail on the bottom floor with condo development on top and townhomes interspersed.  Give a developer incentive to put 3-4 stories.

  3. I so agree with Ald. Rainey

    I so agree with Ald. Rainey that the area is perfectly safe, and I think the $9,000 to organize a merchant effort is money well spent to get some new thinking going for Evanston Plaza.. I lived a block from Dodge/Dempster for several years and walked freely around the area, never feeling threatened or scared in the least.

    Yes, I would love to see the franchises around there do a better job of helping clean the mess their patrons create, and they could do that with so little effort. But ultimately, it was the concept that a couple of big box stores would anchor the center was a mistake. Toys R Us was a great place for us to visit with our kid "back in the day." But you know, that is now so last century.

    However, a strip mall with a huge empty parking lot and a bunch of vacancies does tend to creep people out. That’s understandable. The whole Evanston Plaza concept, from the beginning, was just doomed to fail. There is no reason small and interesting businesses could not find this to be an attractive home with the right lease arrangements. It’s a great and convenient location with loads of parking. People really seem to enjoy Panino’s, and a few more places like that would really help. I try to give the Evanston Plaza Radio Shack my business whenever possible, although I will admit their selection is somewhat limited.

    What”s not to like about a great alternative to dealing with the hassles of street parking, garage fees, etc. if there were some more nice destinations like Panino’s, and dance and theater groups, heck, what is wrong with that? Raven Theater is working out of an old grocery store on Clark, and seem to be doing okay.

    We just have to get over this North Shore "safety" prejudice, don’t we? There are million dollar homes a few blocks away from Dodge/Dempster. This is not exactly a shoot-out zone for gang bangers. What is the problem with nuturing a fine place for smaller businesses to thrive? Okay, I will agree, no more payday loans or nail manicuring places or  pawn shops. That kind of small business we don’t need.

    1. Dempster Dodge

      Part of the problem, a major part of it, was the management who tried to extort high rent and costs from the store owners. Their response — they left.

  4.  The only reason I go

    The only reason I go to Dempster & Dodge is for Panino’s and half the time they deliver it to me, Safe? Every time I walk in there, there is a city official and half the police force; what are people afraid of? They need to help these businesses out in some way  or we lose them one by one. I even heard the owners of Panino’s saying they may leave once their lease comes up for option. We can’t afford to lose them but can you blame them? They need better signage over there, and food places are not the answer, they need some good Triple A businesses, but it might be too late!

  5. A place for children

    My thought is that having a small, fenced area with greenery and a bench would be attractive, instill the atmosphere of safety and peace, and allow people to sit and relax while the children play.  Kids are great!  They don’t demand play equipment as such, but love having a small grassy "hill", Maybe a small fountain, some greenery to hide behind and a tree or two.  Maybe there could be a slatted or regular roof over part of it.  With the lack of play areas in the neighborhood, I think it might be a draw. 

    The mall is certainly big enough to provide space, and already has some shady areas.  Add a Dairy Queen or coffee shop and I think we might have a winner! 

  6. dempster/dodge

    hello all:  some thoughts on my nearby neighborhood mall.  we too shop at dominicks regularly, and are long-time panino’s patrons.  i agree with those commenters who feel the empty stores and cluster of fast-food places and payday loans gives a discouraging tone to the corner.  stores seem to come and go very frequently.  i have long thought that it might change the image of the corner, and over time, draw people to it if some kind of periodic antique/resale/used book/arts and crafts event could be staged in the north half of the parking lot, leaving the south half for patrons of dominicks, the cleaners, radio shack and the discount store.    evanston merchants would be given preference as to entrance fees and locations, and of course, private individuals  and non-profits could have yard sales at the site.  if the kane county antiques fair can draw thousands of people to a fair grounds, for pity’s sake, we should be able to draw folks to central evanston. 

    trader joe’s apparently is very, very picky about where they locate, although two of their requirements are lots of parking, and having a chain grocery nearby, both of which are satisfied by dempster/dodge.  there are a lot of trader joe’s customers all through evanston and the north shore,  us included, who don’t travel out to glenview very often, but who would shop there much more frequently if they were down the street in central evanston.  and given the high vacancy rate, the new owner of the plaza might give them a favorable rental rate and a long-term lease.

    anyway, these are just some ideas to get the conversation going.

    mary b.






  7. Dempster Dodge isn’t safe

    The problem with Dempster and Dodge for merchants is crime. A sportswear shop opened there a few years ago and a group of thieves came in and cleaned them out in broad daylight. Shoplifting crime is rampant in Evanston and like most other crimes in Evanston, goes mostly unreported – from my experience.  

    You want to bring businesses to Evanston? Do something about the crime and high taxes.

    And yes Trader Joes is very picky about where they locate – especially when it comes to taxes, crime, and government intrusion

  8. If we got a Trader Joes at

    If we got a Trader Joes at Dempster & Dodge, I bet a large number of area residents would rejoice!

    I have always wished I had the money to lease out a big section of that shopping plaza and put in a bowling alley with live music. Something that can appeal to many ages, that’s not dependent on weather.

  9. Not everyone is the same!

    Don’t say that all of the businesses are the same (bad!) at Dempster and Dodge. They aren’t all the same. I walk to the currency exchange and it is cleaner and cheaper then my old bank. When I lost my job, they helped me. We aren’t all millionaires.

    1. I have to agree with Joan

      I have to agree with Joan Monitor–a lot of people (like me) use that currency exchange, and we’d miss it if wasn’t there. It’s a nice store and the people who work there are friendly.

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