When Nina Barrett moved her store from Bookman’s Alley to Orrington Avenue in February, she was counting on two things: more visibility and more foot traffic.
But now, the owner of “Bookends and Beginnings” says fences surrounding construction projects on Orrington make her store harder to find, so fewer customers are showing up.
“Our block was absolutely dead last Saturday,” Barrett says, even though other parts of downtown were busy.
Barrett says her income is down $10,000 compared to the first three weeks of September, 2022, when she was in a much more out-of-the-way location in Bookman’s Alley.
According to city spokesperson Jessica Mayo, the fenced-in construction work, on both sides of the 1600 block of Orrington, are private projects “primarily focused on repairing underground structures.”
Other than occurring at the same time, the two projects have nothing to do with each other.
But Barrett wonders why the city, which had to approve permits for the work, allowed both to go forward simultaneously, in the same block.
“No one thought about the economic impact on a business ecosystem that is already so fragile,” Barrett tells Evanston Now.
Signage, she says, is confusing.
One sign says the sidewalk is closed.
But another says all the Orrington businesses are still open, and a third lists them by name.
While it is possible to walk around the fencing to the shops, Barrett says for a potential customer out for a stroll, the whole thing is “not very inviting.”
She says other stores near the fences are also feeling the financial pain.
“If you’re considering which way you’ll walk through downtown Evanston,” Barrett says, you might just skip that part of Orrington altogether and walk down Sherman.
Barrett brought her concerns to a virtual First Ward meeting on Thursday night, saying “the small businesses of Evanston are paying a giant price” for somebody else’s construction.
Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) said that she is “very unhappy with the situation,” and it is “important to acknowledge that this could have been done differently.”
Each project has an “end date” on its permit.
If the work not completed by the date in question, city spokesperson Mayo explains, the private contractor has to ask for an extension or file for a new permit.
The end date for the east side of Orrington is Nov. 17.
On the west side, next to Bookends, it’s Monday, Sept. 25.
As of 6 p.m. on Friday the fencing was still there.
“Very frustrating” is how Barrett sums it up.