Evanston 1st Ward residents were told about some new businesses coming to town — and some old ones hanging on — during a ward meeting Thursday night.
Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager, and Annie Coakley, executive director of Downtown Evanston, talked about new businesses coming to the Church Street Plaza development — which had faced high vacancy levels before a new owner assumed control last year.
Zalmezak said Devil Dawgs, a small chain with four location in Chicago that features Chicago-style hot dogs, has signed a lease for a space near the AMC 12 movie theater.
He said the restaurant will have “cool murals” designed by Lea Pinsky and Dustin Harris of Art Encounter.
Zalmezak said the plaza is also working to land the national chain Crumbl Cookies as a tenant, but that deal isn’t fully baked yet.
With the Sky Zone trampoline park also planned for a location adjacent to the theaters, Zalmezak says plaza owner Mitch Goltz is looking to create a space that has wide appeal for middle school, high school and college students as well as younger families in Evanston.
John Pottinger, co-owner with his brother Bob of Al’s Deli at 914 Noyes St., that was opened by their father in 1949, thanked fans of the lunch spot for donating $17,000 in a recent GoFundMe campaign that has helped keep the long-time business open.
“COVID hurt us,” Pottinger said, “and as a couple of old guys, we feel we should still maintain a mask mandate, and we haven’t been doing indoor dining either.”
“And given that winter season is a slower time, we didn’t pay our November or December rent, so come the 27th of December, we realized there was no way we were going to make it, so we did the GoFundMe,” Pottinger said, “and response was really good, with over 280 people contributing in two weeks.”
He’s now paid the back rent to the landlord, who he says “is really a nice guy” who had reduce the rent substantially during the pandemic. And the deli has a cushion of about three months rent left in the GoFundMe account
The lunch spot features French-inspired cuisine, with sandwiches and a lot of soups, plus what Pottinger says is “our most well-known thing” — butter cookies with butter cream frosting.
Another long-time business aided by a recent GoFundMe campaign is Bookends & Beginnings.
Owner Nina Barrett said her campaign raised $102,000 to help outfit a new storefront shop scheduled to open in the 1600 block of Orrington Avenue around Feb. 9, after the current store in Bookman’s Alley closes on Jan. 28.
Overall, Zalmezak said, despite the pandemic-related challenges, Evanston “is doing OK.”
He said a lot of private investment is in the works, and while Smylie Brothers Brewing Co. recently closed, “I think we will see Smylie Brothers back.”
Zalmezak said a city consultant will be making some recommendations about business district improvements to City Council in March and Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) said the city is developing a Legacy Business Program to help promote long-time businesses in town.