The Evanston Plan Commission approved a proposal Wednesday night that would protect existing barbershops, beauty salons and other personal service establishments from competition.

The proposed zoning change would establish a 500-foot separation rule between such establishments.

It would require any new such business seeking to open closer than that to an existing one to seek City Council approval under the city’s special use process. But it would grandfather in existing establishments — so they would not have to apply for approval.

The separation rule would effectively preclude any new personal service businesses opening in downtown Evanston or most of the city’s other business districts without going through the time-consuming special use process.

The restrictions revisit in a different form an unsuccessful effort in 2012 and 2013 by Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, to create a zoning overlay district on Howard Street that would have required all existing personal service establishments there to close within two years or seek approval as special uses to continue their operation.

That idea was rejected by the Plan Commission and ultimately tabled and dropped from City Council consideration.

The new proposal originally called for a 1,000 foot separation between such establishments, but that was cut to 500 feet by city staff after the Zoning Committee of the Plan Commission raised doubts about the merits of the restriction.

In presenting the proposal to the Plan Commission Wednesday night, Damir Latinovic, the city’s interim planning and zoning administrator, claimed that with too many businesses of a certain type in an area those businesses can’t flourish.

He also argued that they are less likely to generate related traffic to other retail businesses in a shopping district, a contention disputed by Plan Commission Chair Jim Ford.

“I suspect a fair number of people come down to have their hair cut and then go shopping afterward,” Ford said.

Commissioner Lenny Asaro said the rule would create an economic burden for potential business owners of having to hire an attorney to lead them through the special use approval process.

“I understand the rationally behind the proposal — to generate a mix of uses — and fully support that,” Asaro said, “but this may not be the most effective tool.”

Commissioner Carol Goddard said she was uncomfortable with having the proposal go to City Council without first “running it past the business groups in town.”

And Asaro added that it’s not just the business owners who are affected, but the property owners who would see their options for renting their storefronts reduced.

The commission voted to recommend approval of the ordinance, with instructions to city staff to notify business groups of it before the proposal goes to City Council, probably on April 27.

Personal service businesses may be seen as less attractive by aldermen because their services — unlike retail shops selling goods — don’t generate sales tax revenue for the city. And some aldermen have said they’ve heard complaints from constituents that the city has too many such uses — especially nail salons.

The city also requires special use approval for some types of restaurants, but restaurants generate revenue for the city from the sales tax, and in many cases also generate additional liquor tax revenue. So, in practice, the City Council almost always approves special use requests for restaurants — despite concerns from some residents that Evanston has too many of them.

Maps presented by staff at the Plan Commisison meeting indicate that the count of personal service businesses by neighborhood is roughly:

  • Downtown – 32
  • Chicago/Main – 5
  • Chicago/Dempster – 5
  • Church/Dodge – 4
  • Howard Street – 11
  • Noyes – 2
  • Central/Green Bay – 5
  • Central/Central Park – 5

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Good intentions

    Despite the availability of 28 Evanston hair salons, I regularly make the pilgrimage three blocks south of the the Evanston border to the New Image Hair Salon on Clark Street in Chicago.  The establishment is owned by a gentleman from Kosova and most of the stylists are from either 
    Albania or Kosovo.  All the sylists are very nice and extremely competent.  The price for a hair cut is 5 bucks. Parking is free in the back.  The workers are always very pleasant.  They speak to their customers in English and to each other in their native tongue, usually with a lot of interspersed giggling.  On a recent vist I asked my stylist if they made fun of their customers in Albanian when the customer was in the chair.  "Of course" she replied. No wonder they are so happy.  I always tip 100% and they treat me like a king.

    The ever benevelent Evanston Plan Commision's idea to "help out" another class of vendors is I'm afraid doomed by the ability to cross city limits made possible by the miracle of modern transportation.   However, I suggest  that the Commission engage in a "Viability Study" to see if the collar communities of Chicago, Skokie, Wilmette, Highland Park, and Glenview would also adopt such rulesto limit competition for hair salons and the likes.  And why not also include restaurants? Many of them are also having a tough go of it.

    1. I Agree

      To be more specific they should include  Burger and Pizza places. Perhaps limit the number of Bars on Howard.

    2. Paving the way

      The New Image Hair Salon on Clark street sounds lovely, and at $5 a cut and free parking, no less!

      Meanwhile, in our fair city, the interim planning and zoning administrator is being quoted as claiming that  "with too many businesses of a certain type in an area those businesses can't flourish," as a reason to support government intervention. Oh my.

      Perhaps he, and other like-minded city officials, could take trip across the border to the New Image Hair Salon to better understand how a small certain type of business can flourish without government benevolence limiting competition.

      1. Has anyone evaluated if….

        Has anyone evaluated if this number of hair/nail/spa services is excessive?  Seems like the right amount to me.  How about we focus on the number of empty store fronts vs placing more restrictions on businesses.

      2. Is this craziness being

        Is this craziness being caused by Evanston's water. I have seen government on the side increasing competition but have never seen it limiting competition, until now.

        I don't like my tax dollars being used to fight a sure law suite that the city could never win.

        1. Agreed.  This is the kind of

          Agreed.  This is the kind of crap that turns one into a Libertarian.

          The real meaning here is summed up in the sentence buried deep in the article:  "Personal service businesses may be seen as less attractive by aldermen because their services — unlike retail shops selling goods — don't generate sales tax revenue for the city."

          There is some room for regulations – liquor stores, gun shops, massage parlors, nuclear waste sites – sure….but barber shops? Who knew the barbers and nail technicians had such a powerful lobby?

          Really – I'm glad that our interim bureaucrat has more economic sense than everyone else on the planet and can make decisions for all entrepreneurs everywhere.  Just like they do it in Beijing!

  2. planning?

    There is so much wrong with the thinking behind this proposal.

    First off, there is an assumption that the market is saturated, which it obviously is not. When you see a lot of former personal service business fold and the space remains empty, then the market is oversaturated. Until then, the market is meeting demand efficiently. I see few, if any, vacancies of that nature.

    The idea that salon users don't generate traffic for other neighboring business is ridiculous. Anything that brings a body to a district storefront is a positive for other business in the area. It's up to those other business to draw that salon user into their door.

    I understand the desire to create greater retail variety, but this is not how that is accomplished. I hope this is not the best "planning" can come up with.

  3. amazingly awful idea

    This idea is so bad it manages to offend both conservative and liberal sensibilities.

    the fact that these shops continue  to thrive indicates that the market  is not oversaturated. The many  empty storefronts around town seem to discount the idea that these businesses are crowding out others.

    Many of these workers are immigrants,  female, entrepreneurial, and middle-class. For example the vast majority  of nail salon workers are female refugees from Vietnam.

    this rule simutaneously manages to be anti-women, anti-imimmigrant, anti-middle class, anti-entrepreneur, and flat out racist: impressively horrible 

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