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Development panel debates city’s role

Members of Evanston’s Economic Development Committee found Wednesday night that they didn’t quite agree about the city’s role in attracting and retaining business.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, complained that the new pop-up Halloween store on Sherman Avenue was harming the business of the Hallmark card shop a couple blocks away on Davis Street.


Members of Evanston’s Economic Development Committee found Wednesday night that they didn’t quite agree about the city’s role in attracting and retaining business.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, complained that the new pop-up Halloween store on Sherman Avenue was harming the business of the Hallmark card shop a couple blocks away on Davis Street.

The Hallmark store “does 75 percent of its business in the last three months of the year,” Fiske said, and though its owners have responded to the new store by opening up a storeroom in their building to expand their own Halloween costume display, the business “is in trouble” because of the new competition.

Fiske, who owns a pet store across the street from the Hallmark shop, added, “It’s really tough out there for local retail.”

But Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, countered that the landlord at Sherman Plaza who rented the vacant Pier 1 space for the popup store to the regional chain Chicago Costume Company “might say I’m desperate for every nickel I can get” because of the down economy.

And Plan Commissioner Seth Freeman voiced doubts the city could control whether stores that compete with existing merchants opened in town. He added that last year the seasonal Halloween store had rented space in the Evanston Plaza at Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue.

But Freeman argued there should be “a clear policy statement from the city about the type of businesses it wants to attract” and decried what he said were city policies that have been “driving small businesses out.”

Fiske added that the city “has sent very confusing messages to the small business community downtown.”

Freeman claimed that approval of the 708 Church St. project had “pushed a lot of small businesses away” and said the same thing happened at Main Street and Chicago Avenue where a development project has stalled.

But he conceded, “I don’t know what to do to prevent a situation like that.”

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, tartly responded that the answer was “don’t have a recession.”

And Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said the city had encouraged new developments during a decade of boom times that have attracted a lot of businesses.

“The policy issue on land use, I don’t even think we need to go there,” Jean-Baptiste said, “It’s all market-driven to some extent.”

Jean-Baptiste said the city should focus on getting to know the businesses that are already here and trying to retain them.

And Rainey said “there’s a lot of fear mongering going on.”

“Anybody who left the 708 building in fear of imminent demolition was really misinformed,” she added, because the city had given the developer such a long time to get the project started and required that no demolition occur until financing for construction was in place.

Wynne said independent business owners “don’t necessarily join up with other people” and the city has to reach out to let them know that it has resources and can provide a helping hand.

And Jean-Baptiste suggested “maybe we don’t have enough people working in economic development.”

If the city doesn’t have enough staff to get the job done, he added, “All those good ideas just sit there. They have to be implemented.”

After filling several flip chart sheets with ideas for outreach and marketing efforts, the committee members left staff with the job of pulling the ideas together into a proposed policy document they could review at next month’s meeting.

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