After slumping badly during the recession, sales at Evanston retailers have rebounded enough to boost the city’s sales tax collections significantly in recent months.

But despite substantial and costly efforts to stimulate economic development, Evanston still badly lags many nearby communities in generating retail sales.

Figures from the Illinois Department of Revenue show that Evanston’s sales tax receipts in 2013 topped same-month figures for the prior year in 11 out of 12 months.

The chart above shows the month in which the state distributed the revenue collected to the city. It reflect payments from merchants two months earlier.

For the year as a whole, Evanston’s sales tax collections were up 5.7 percent, compared to a statewide increase of 1.1 percent.

But looking at the past several years, Evanston’s sales tax revenue for the state’s fiscal year ending in June 2013 was still down 1.2 percent from five years earlier — reflecting the impact of big drops in 2009 and 2010.

Comparing Evanston to other towns in northern Cook County east of I-294, Evanston generated more sales tax revenue per capita last year than its shoreline neighbors, but substantially less that most towns further inland.

Evanston generated $198 per capita in sales tax revenue during that period. At the high end, Niles pulled in $852 per capita, while wealthy Kenilworth brought up the rear with just $29 per capita — although Kenilworth’s number was a substantial increase proportionately over what it had been just a few years ago.

As a group, the shoreline towns other than Evanston — Glencoe, Kenilworth, Wilmette, Winnetka — saw a 10.7 percent decline in sales tax revenue over the five-year period, while the inland communities on average saw a 3.8 percent increase, led by Glenview and Niles.

Evanston city officials have long complained that our shoreline location truncates the area from which Evanston can draw shoppers, and our lack of easy highway access makes it more difficult to draw major retailers to town.

The city has made numerous efforts to increase sales tax receipts through economic development spending.

Notably, in mid-2012 the city approved spending just over $2 million to buy a parking lot for the Trader Joe’s grocery store that opened this September, contributing to the recent uptick in sales tax revenue.

And tonight the city’s Economic Development Committee is scheduled to review a proposal to make a forgivable loan of up to $2 million to aid the expansion of the Autobarn car dealership into an abandoned factory building at 222 Hartrey Ave.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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