Evanston officials fretted at Wednesday night’s Economic Development Committee meeting about how to attract a more diverse range of retail businesses to the city’s shopping districts.

While reviewing an updated work plan for the city’s Economic Development Division, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city is trying to promote “our quality of place” and attract distinctive new businesses — like the Little Beans play cafe — that provide “an amenity that people are really excited about.”

Bobkiewicz said that because of competition from Old Orchard and other shopping malls to the west, Evanston is not likely to attract many national retailers, but can look for regional or expanding local players.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, suggested Bonobos, an online clothing retailer with what it calls Guideshops in a limited number of locations, including one in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, where customers can try on clothes and then order items for home delivery.

And Bobkiewicz said something similar might be in the future for the downtown Evanston Radio Shack store — with Amazon said to be considering turning some RadioShack outlets into showrooms and pickup locations for selected items from its vast inventory. A prototype of that model recently opened at Purdue University.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said she was worried about what might replace the recently shuttered Pret a Manger restaurant across the street from Radio Shack at the Church and Sherman intersection.

Instead of another restaurant, Grover said, she “would love to see something retail there.”

She also complained that she can’t get a tennis racket or hosiery in town — with no sporting goods or women’s foundation shops here.

Bobkiewicz said that in some cases the landlords of commercial properties are an obstacle to getting the businesses that residents might find most appealing. A lot of the specialty shops don’t fall into the categories that landlords are thinking of if they’re looking for a national tenant who’ll pay top price in rent.

“Many of the landlords are not as concerned about the overall community mix as we are,” Bobkiewicz said.

“I don’t know the number of pizza restaurants that have come along. They’re high quality, and some are only choosing a handful of locations in the Chicago area. They want to be here and are paying good dollar,” he said, and when city staff talk to some landlords about doing something a little less conventional that might not yield as much in rent “their eyes glaze over.”

“But if we don’t make progress on this, we will lose the diversity that we need,” the city manager added.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. How about…

    One or more shoe stores with a range from casual to 'dress'—we use to have a Famous Footwear and several others
    At least one more drug store.  Osco thought they were going to be given space in Sherman Plaza but that was later denied them.  I think CVS though Osco would come back or they would have built a larger store.  We use to have as many as seven—though some small.
    Get Macy's back.  We use to have a Marshall Fields, Woolworths, Wiebolts, Lytons, Baskins [mens clothing] and several women's boutiques. We had a KMart on Main. Sears was in negotiations for Sherman Plaza but the city debated so long, they pulled out.
    An appliance store.

    I know bookstores are questionable business anymore, but I think of Great Expectations which had a world wide reputation. For all the 'winners' the Council picked, I don't think they ever gave the slightest bit of even non-financial support.  Same with Richard Barnes Rare books.

    These are only the obvious ones.  If the city taxes and meaningless regulations were cut, I think we could get some businesses—but the chances of the city fathers doing so is remote.

    1. Evanston Still Has Great Bookstores

      ~~Great Expectations was a wonderful store, as was Bookman's Alley and Kroch's and other Evanston bookstores that no longer exist. But do not draw the conclusion that bookstores are no longer an economically viable business, especially now in a recovering economy. Evanston has several, and is in fact known as the home to many interesting, quirky, and creative bookstores, including Amaranth, Howard's, and Squeezebox.

      My wife and I run Bookends & Beginnings, a now almost one-year-old general interest, independent bookstore in downtown Evanston–in the old Bookman's Alley space. Our immediate neighbor in the alley off Sherman, right behind Saville Flowers, is the Alley Gallery. Both of these businesses enjoy great support from the community, and tourists and other out-of-towners find us easily on Yelp and other social media, as evidenced by the fact that we have close to 1300 fans and followers on Facebook–310 from Evanston but over 500 from Chicago, Wilmette, Skokie and other nearby communities. We have 2500 members in our loyalty program. So please: in our rush to attract national retailers to Evanston, let's not forget the unique local businesses that make our city different from others and an exciting destination for both locals and visitors to explore.

      We have been heartened by recent conversations with city officials who have sought us out and seem to "get it" when it comes to promoting local businesses like ours and not just attracting national chains–these chains that are the great genericizers of American downtowns and who will pick up and leave in a heartbeat (or less, like Pret a Manger) if the balance sheet is not to their liking.

      Visit us physically or check us out online at either or And watch how "our" alley turns beautiful over the next six to twelve months!


  2. Too many restaurants? WRONG!
    How can they think it is due to too many restaurants? How about the city is just impossible to deal with for anything and it is a hassle to get anything approved.

  3. So what’s Wally new plan?

    It  should  scare anyone with any intelligent, Wally is now trying to suggest who landlords should rent their business properties.

    The two business he used our tax dollars on Howard's are all over the city, so where's the Diversity?

    The bad loan to Chicken and Waffles?  How long will little bean last? ( I suspect we will be out of the $75,000 we loaned them within two years)

    If Wally claim is the landlords are the "obstacle", What is Wally? An obstalce to prudent fiscal management of our tax dollars?

    1. Little Beans is off to a
      Little Beans is off to a booming start. It’s exactly what parents want, especially with the never-ending winters. And they pull in business from Chicago too.

      1. Any time you open a business what happens?

        In the case of Little bean's, yes it is seeing alot of traffic since it just openned, but will it last? Its a nice use in the winter, what about summer? How will it compete with parks and beaches?

        I have no issue with any business openning up in Evanston, that is when its using the owners money, as I recall Little bean got a city loan of $75,000 and tax breaks over time that will amount to close to 1 million dollars!

        I am sick and tried of our city council lending out OUR money for their pet projects, when public facilities are falling apart. I am also tried of their continue misrepresentation about the tax increases and Wally's contined shell game with our money.

        I have lived here a long time and I can continue to afford to live here, ( althought I have seen too many people forced to leave because of the cost ) but I believe public money belows to the public and should be used for public uses not the council's pet projects or building patio's for private businesses!

  4. How about more oriental rug

    How about more oriental rug stores.  Last time I counted we only had 23 locations.  Evanston loves the rug! (What is the emoticon for sarcasm?)

    1. Yes, more Oriental Rug shops,

      Yes, more Oriental Rug shops, puuulease!  And more 7-11's, so more 14 year olds can throw up after drinking their first beer.  In all seriousness, I long for a Dairy Queen in Evanston.  Or a bowling alley.  And yes it would be nice to buy some clothes somewhere besides the Gap without having to trek to (gasp!) Old Orchard – that cultural cesspool of doom.  As for a tennis racket, mouth guard or jock strap, again,  I hate having to go north (Wilmette? Eeek!).

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