Traditional “shop local” campaigns that try to guilt consumers to buying from local shops won’t work during the pandemic, Evanston’s economic development manager told aldermen Monday night.

Paul Zalmezak said U.S. Commerce Department data shows that online sales have increased 30% over the last year while total retail sales grew only 4%.

And, with younger shoppers preferring to shop online — 67% of millennials say prefer online shopping compared to just 28% of seniors — the shift may only continue, even after the pandemic is over.

So, Zalmezak says, the city needs to promote local e-commerce and push unique shopping experiences in storefronts.

He says the city’s economic development staff and leaders of the city’s three shopping district special service areas “have begun exploring a shift to technical assistance to help our local retailers create a strong e-commerce presence.”

Paul Zalmezak.

Zalmezak said the city should also place more emphasis on improving the economic well being of residents with workforce development, financial wellness initatives, affordable housing policies and technical assistance for micro enterprises.

Related story: City staff sees new economic development strategy

Mayor Steve Hagerty thanked Zalmezak for what he called “a really thorough analysis.”

Interim City Manager Erika Storlie said the presentation was intended to provide a broad overview and give aldermen a chance to tell staff whether they were “centering the conversation correctly.”

She said staff would move forward with more specific proposals over the next several months.

Hagerty said, “It’s going to take years to recover” from the pandemic economically and having a thoughtful plan prepared to be able to take advantage of any possible furtuer assistance from Washington will be key.

Aldermen voted to refer the report to the city’s Economic Development Committee for further review.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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