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Evanston retail showed new spark in 2013

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Evanston's retail economy grew in 2013, most notably with the opening of a long-anticipated Trader Joe's store on Chicago Avenue.

By early in the fourth quarter, city officials were projecting the city would finish the year with a 2.9 percent increase in sales tax receipts — nearly twice the 1.5 percent increase in the consumer price index.

But the lack of a confirmed buyer for the two Dominick's supermarkets in town creates some uncertainty going into 2014.

The Trader Joe's opened in September, just eight months after ground was broken at the site — a shuttered Blockbuster store.

That was just 16 months after the City Council approved a deal under which it acquired properties north of the store for $2 million and leased them to the store's developer for 70 years.

While the deal provides little direct revenue to the city's parking fund, which funded the purchase, city officials said the new store would likely generate upwards of a $500,000 a year in sales, liquor and property tax revenue.

In any case, the project worked out successfully for developer Terraco Inc., which sold the site for $11 million less than a month after the store opened.

While some critics predicted that adding the Trader Joes' would lead to closure of at least one of the two adjacent Chicago Avenue supermarkets — Jewel and Whole Foods — it was Safeway's decision to close its Dominick's chain in metro Chicago that upset the grocery cart in Evanston as 2013 came to a close.

The Dominick's at Evanston Plaza.

While several chains expressed an interest in some of the Dominick's locations, Jewel didn't pick up either of the Evanston stores, and neither did Mariano's, which has plans to open a new location nearby, at Howard and Touhy in Skokie.

Ribbon-cutting at the new Walgreens.

City officials turned out last month for the ribbon-cutting at the new "net-zero" Walgreens store on Chicago Avenue.

That project started when the strip-mall's owner noticed the new AMLI apartment complex going up next door and decided that development would justify upgrading his property.

The plans began with a design for a conventional new store, but then Walgreens officials decided it would make the right spot to test out a radically new, eco-friendly design — complete with solar panels on the roof and wind turbines out front.

And on Evanston's very active restaurant scene, while some venue's like LuLu's were closing, an array of others — from Hoosier Mama Pie Company to Farmhouse Tavern — opened during the year.

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