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Neighbors get preview of new play cafe

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Well over 100 grownups crowded into the Little Beans play cafe in Evanston Thursday night for a ward meeting — and a chance to check out the new business that's scheduled to open next week.

While the play spaces closed off and the cafe area was still under construction, residents could get a good sense of of what's finally arrived to fill the long-vacant former Osco drug store at the corner of Asbury Avenue and Oakton Street.

The standing-room-only crowd heard Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, recount that many of the residents had been in the building for another meeting when there were plans to convert it into a produce market.

"That fell through, as did everything else we fought to get here," Rainey said, adding that the city's economic development staff "is pretty good" at bringing new business to town "but we had absolutely nothing to do" with this one.

Little Beans co-owner Shannon Valko drove by one day, Rainey said, and decided it would be a perfect location to expand the business, which already had a cafe in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.

"We embraced them," Rainey said. And so the city did, supporting a property tax break worth roughly $1.1 million over a dozen years and pressuring the CVS drug store chain, from which Little Beans is subleasing the building, to come through with funds to help rehabilitate the property.

Little Beans co-owners, and siblings, Shannon Valko and Rob Spengler, described the business.

The 14,500 square foot building has a fanciful village of play structures for "little beans," kids from 0 to 6 years old, and in a different area, a ninja-warrior-themed obstacle course, half-court gym and other activities for "big beans" — ages 5 to 12.

Large interior windows provide a view into the play village area.

The cafe will offer coffee along with panini sandwiches, salads, soups, pastries and snacks — and includes drive-thru service.

Little Beans is scheduled to open on Friday, Feb. 13, with parties, classes and events starting March 1.

Daily admission passes start at $12 per child with discounts for siblings.

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