As downtown Evanston adjusts to life as the pandemic fades, the closing of one well-loved store is unlike most shutdowns the past 15 months.

This one has nothing to do with COVID-19.

“My parents are in their 70s and it’s time for them to have a life,” says Becky Sebert, the “Becky” in the Becky and Me toy store.

Sebert co-owns the store with her mom and dad, and with her parents about to retire, she says it’s time to close up shop after 14 years on Grove Street.

“We made it through the pandemic pretty well,” Sebert notes, with “a lot of hard work,” such as website sales, curbside pickup and deliveries.

This Saturday will probably be the last day, although if any items are still left there could be a few more days open to sell the inventory.

“It’s definitely bittersweet,” Sebert says. “A lot of customers have come by,” she adds, including some high schoolers who have said “thank you so much. This place was such a part of my childhood.”

Anyone walking to Becky and Me since March 2020 would have seen a nearby restaurant that was poised to open. In fact, Reza’s, a Mediterranean/Persian restaurant with three other locations in Chicagoland, was expected to open on Sherman Avenue on March 15 of last year.

But we all know what happened then. Reza’s didn’t open, looking frozen in time ever since, with tables, tablecloths and glassware in place, waiting for customers who could not show up, and employees who could not come to work.

But now, the Downtown Evanston marketing group says Reza’s will open soon, in what used to be Pete Miller’s steakhouse. No date has been announced.

A few doors down on Sherman there is now a different business story — an example of pivoting into a new opportunity despite the challenging times.

Backlot Coffee closed their Sherman store at the end of May (the Central Street location remains open). But instead of giving up, Backlot’s owners combined with Plant Shop Chicago to create Plant Shop Evanston … a switch from coffee to cacti.

The Sherman Avenue plant store opened Wednesday.

Ozzy Gamez, of the Chicago plant store, says when he “saw the space and all the light which comes in” to the former coffee shop, selling tropical plants and houseplants there made perfect business sense.

And as for opening a new venture during a pandemic, Gamez says that, too, was a good idea.

“The decision,” he says, “was pretty easy because during the pandemic, a lot of people wanted to bring life into their houses to keep them content and sane.”

How to do that? Simple. Buy plants.

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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