Retailers attending today's Evanston economic development summit said they want easier parking for customers, more collaboration on marketing and promotion and an easier time finding space for their stores.
Nell Funk of Now We're Cookin' said several owners who rent space in her commercial kitchen are looking to set up retail shops in Evanston but they're finding desirable space unaffordable.
She said they also have difficulty dealing with city zoning restrictions. For example, she said, a bakery might need space that was zoned both for retail sale and wholesale food production.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the city is actually very flexible and welcoming to new businesses.
"We can make things happen," Rainey said, "and we're open to all great ideas."
But Funk said the time it takes to win approvals also poses a problem for many businesses.
Shaun Chinsky, owner of Good's picture framing on Main Street, said there's a need for more storefront retail businesses in his neighborhood.
Top: Nell Funk of Now We're Cookin'. Above: Shaun Chinsky of Goods.
Chinsky said that in the 1980s retail stores filled Custer and Sherman avenues as well as the core of the district on Main Street and Chicago Avenue.
But gradually, he said, those spaces have been converted for office or other uses that don't generate foot traffic or provide a destination shopping experience.
He suggested the city might take steps through zoning to encourage retail uses in first-floor spaces.
Carolyn Dellutri, executive director of Downtown Evanston, suggested that the city could encourage complementary retail businesses to locate near each other.
As an example she suggested that a wedding district could include flower and dress shops and wedding photographers.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, suggested coordinating promotional activites with arts groups so that, for example, business districts could host outdoor performances by arts groups.
Gina Speckman executive director of the Chicago's North Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau, summed up comments from several members of the group saying there's still a perception that parking is hard to find and expensive in Evanston.
Several speakers suggested that more collaboration and communication among the different neighborhood merchant groups would help — but they also noted that, unlike Downtown Evanston, which has a special service area taxing district to support it, all the neighborhood business districts are entirely volunteer-run organizations.
About 100 people attended the economic development summit, which ran from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Civic Center.