Three-year-old Harlow Phillips has a head start on becoming an architect.

Harlow was carefully piecing blocks together at Fountain Square on Saturday morning, making sure her Jenga tower did not fall down.

Harlow’s parents, Bob and Ashley Phillips, biked down from their home in Wilmette (with Harlow in tow) to enjoy Games & Eats on the Square.

That event, along with a chalk art contest, and the annual sidewalk sale, concided with the launch of Downtown Evanston’s rebranding of downtown Evanston.

The new message, “Your Town. Downtown,” will go up around the commercial core as companies, organizations, and individuals buy banners for light poles.

Samples of the banner designs.

“We want everyone to feel like this is everyone’s downtown,” said Annie Coakley, executive director of the Downtown Evanston marketing organization, the group behind the image campaign and banners. (Those banners can also be customized to include a business name or slogan).

Across the street from the square, Ally Pullinger was creating a chalk art picture on the sidewalk in front of Gearhead Outfitters outdoor store where she works.

Ally Pullinger creating nature-themed chalk art.

Pullinger said downtown business is a challenge these days, “because you rely on walk-by traffic,” which is down since the COVID pandemic hit in March 2020.

She said events like the chalk art contest and games on the square attract potential customers “to see what’s here.” The annual sidewalk sale also helps.

A few blocks down on Davis Street, middle schoolers were putting together their sidewalk chalk contest entries in front of the One River art school.

Eleven-year-old Ava Gass enjoyed collaborating with her friends on the picture, which includes the lighthouse and the phrase “Evanston Pride.”

Ava Gass (yellow shirt) and friends working on sidewalk art contest entry.

“Evanston is known for the lighthouse,” Ava explained. And in this case, it is “shining the light on the pride flag.”

“Evanston is a part of us,” she added.

But Evanston, downtown in particular, needs more shoppers.

“Without the daytime population [of office workers],” Coakley noted, “we’re in trouble.”

So, recently, Coakley attended a networking event at Chicago’s Fulton Market, to interact with 400 commercial real estate brokers, and sell them on the idea of Evanston.

If Chicago-based businesses want to downsize, Coakley said, “Evanston is the perfect fit.”

Three-year-old Harlow was able to make the perfect fit for her Jenga blocks.

If only it was so easy for a city.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Join the Conversation


  1. “Your Town Downtown ” is something any town can say about itself. This does little to resonate with residents and doesn’t say anything unique about Evanston. Whoever developed this should have hired a professional branding expert to develop something that better tells the story about what Evanston is.

  2. Jim has a good point. And the City Council is working on topless women everywhere and Downtown is working on ‘smaller town’, ‘family friendly’. I would NOT bring a child to Evanston if this topless/nipple thing is passed. This used to be a nice town, not Chicago, not Milwaukee but a Hometown with familiar stores and familiar faces…not any more.

  3. Couldn’t agree more. Evanston is unique and any kind of branding effort needs to hear and reflect what Evanston is instead of following “trends”. In addition, many of those trends need to be updated to address new patterns of urban life post pandemic. It’s not business as usual.

  4. The things mentioned here are nice, but it’s all “feel – good” stuff. I live adjacent to downtown Evanston, but as a result of the pandemic, I rarely “shop” there anymore. I might duck into Target once in a great while, but now I can get everything I need online. I like to grab a bite to eat and hang out at Fountain Square, but the increase in downtown panhandling can render that a “less than pleasant” experience. There is no compelling reason for me to spend any “serious money” in downtown Evanston…

  5. Re-branding? Walk, pedal or drive around downtown Evanston, so many businesses have closed. Fountain Square continues to “not” have a fountain. Homelessness continues to grow. (As does crime). Seems every restaurant that somehow hasn’t gone out of business, is still short staffed. Why would anyone actually go to downtown Evanston right now? It’s basically a ghost town.

  6. Sorry, but I just can’t get over how amateur this “rebranding” effort is. One can only hope it can be changed before spending more money on it. Before retiring, I held senior positions with major advertising agencies in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago – and on major national accounts. This tagline wouldn’t have made it past a creative director’s desk. It’s bland, trite, insipid, and says nothing meaningful. If the intent is to say Evanston is boring, but has money to waste, it has succeeded. How much did the city pay for this pablum thus far?

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