An analysis of retail vacancy data by Evanston’s Economic Development staff concludes the city’s neighborhood shopping districts are proving more resilient than downtown in the current economic climate.

The data from CoStar Retail Analytics shows that vacancies downtown have risen from 9.2% last year to 11.7% this year.

By comparison, the retail vacancy rate for properties across the city’s other shopping districts has increased only from 4.6% to 4.9%.

Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager, told residents at a 5th Ward meeting Thursday night that downtown — which contains the bulk of the city’s office space — has been much more severely impacted by the work-at-home movement brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

People who are working from home may still be going out to shop or dine at lunchtime in their own neighborhoods, Zalmezak says, but many office workers who previously commuted into Evanston haven’t returned — or are only in the office a few days a week.

Despite that, Zalmezak pointed to several encouraging signs of a revival downtown — ranging from the reopening of the movie theater and the anticipated opening of several new shops in the Church Street Plaza development to the plans of the new owners of the Orrington Hotel for an extensive renovation of the city’s largest hotel property.

He also suggested that the construction now underway of a 10-story research lab building on the former Burger King site, just up Orrington Avenue from the hotel, will help expand the pool of office workers downtown.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. I’ve stopped going to Target, as well as downtown generally, because of the vagrancy issues. Also, Fountain Square; I used to go there most every day in nice weather, sit outside and have a coffee or read, it was a nice thing about Evanston. Same with the lovely Merrick Rose Garden, since the Margarita Inn opened there are now vagrants, so I don’t visit anymore… people are scared away from our wonderful Halim Time & Glass Museum, again “guests” from the adjacent Margarita Inn homeless shelter have driven visitors away…

    Two downtown restaurant owners have told me they are having trouble with vagrants coming in, engaging in disruptive behaviors – in one case an addict locked himself into a bathroom to shoot up. One evening a bum came in when I was eating at one of these places and, begging for money and “free food”…

    My employer has an office downtown, in the Evanston Public Library. Because of recent incidents with disruptive and threatening homeless, we now keep our office door locked at all times. People used to be able to walk in anytime to utilize our resources, now they must make confirmed appointments. Hardly a “welcoming environment”, but that is what it has come to…

    Looks like Evanston’s “leadership” wants us to become another San Francisco – if so, they are getting off to a dandy start…

    Evanston’s public officials might consider addressing basic public safety issues. Until then, downtown Evanston will continue to decline…

    PS: any updates on the “porta – potty program”, which is a plan to place porta – potties in downtown Evanston?

  2. I don’t understand why there are so many empty storefronts when downtown Evanston is such a pleasant place to be constantly harassed by beggars or mentally ill people screaming obscenities at the top of their lungs. I mean it’s like a little slice of paradise!

  3. I am concerned about my safety downtown as a result of numerous beggars and addicts that shout random things as you pass by. Evanston has to do something about it or they will lose more than downtown revenue.

  4. Rents are ridiculous… Bookman’s Alley couldn’t afford to stay in the alley??? How can you lose a Panera in a university town?

    1. Because it had become a defacto homeless shelter. Who wants to eat a meal in a place chock-full of vagrants?

  5. Question: Why is it that retail vacancies are highest downtown?

    Answer: In most of our other retail districts, shoppers aren’t subjected to harassment, aggressive panhandling, filth, assault, robbery, and overall severe disorder and urban decay.

    Perhaps the City should spend some of the apparently large budget for yet another consultancy to help us get out of this spiraling mess?

    No more excuses: pandemic, working from home, proximity to Chicago, etc.

    If other districts and cities can recover and restore their retail base, Evanston should be able to as well.

  6. I moved to a downtown condo so I could walk everywhere. My brother visited from out of state and was concerned by the litter, graffiti, beggars and a disturbed person yelling. The city is addressing litter and graffiti with clean teams and now needs to address people’s behavior. I have been an Evanston resident and “booster” for many decades but the Margarita Inn licensing could lead to an even worse situation.

    The crime reports are long. Let’s get our police force fully staffed.

  7. Downtown Evanston is pretty awful. I was with my 5 year old in a shop & was confronted by a panhandler who demanded money for the el. I said no & tried to move my daughter away from him & he then yelled at her. Retail clerk looked like a high school kid and stood there, frozen. Other customers also stood still while the man kept wandering through the shop, shouting obscenities. Good times had by all.

  8. It is so alarming but not surprising to hear these comments regarding the sad state of downtown, especially as they relate to public safety.

    I strongly encourage everyone to express your concerns and experiences with our elected officials through email, phone calls, and attendance at ward, city council, and commission meetings. Their eyes need to be opened more widely.

  9. Spent a fantastic last evening in Andersonville (Chicago neighborhood) dining, shopping, strolling, and enjoying.

    Sidewalks were packed with diverse crowds, stores jammed with browsers and buyers, brass quartet playing holiday tunes, CPD on foot, and a most festive and positive vibe! Not ONE pandhandler to be found.

    Perhaps our Economic Dev Committee and elected officials could take a lesson from the Andersonville playbook?

    Unfortunately Evanston has become merely a bedroom and a place to go to school for my entire family.

  10. Poor new small businesses, and great Evanston efforts to help them. But our Council seems to focus on what fees, ordinances, parking nightmares, etc. they can add to discourage visitors, elderly patrons, people looking for small events that Ryan small arena can host with their security, What are we offering anymore? that people manage the way to get into the city with our confusing one-way streets and poor street lighting, even around the high school and Ridge Avenue, how can anyone ask why our downtown is suffering. We don’t need to pay a consultant to tell us why. Just listen to friends and neighbors and guests!

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