Rotary International headquarters on Sherman Avenue.

Shops and restaurants in downtown Evanston will be getting a financial shot in the arm soon, as hundreds of employees of Rotary International will begin working in-person at Rotary’s office building once again as of Oct. 3.

With 565 staffers, Rotary is the largest single downtown employer. Many merchants have been hurt financially due to COVID-19, as large numbers of downtown workers turned into “stay-at-home” workers, who neither shopped nor dined near their former offices.

However, even as the largest employer brings workers back downtown, the lingering impact of the pandemic will not go away completely.

That’s because Rotary will institute a hybrid system for office employees, including both the Rotary Center on Sherman Avenue and home.

In a statement to Evanston Now, John Hewko, Rotary International’s CEO and general secretary, says, “Given our successful experience working remotely during the pandemic, Rotary will continue to offer flexibility in work arrangements for most U.S. based positions moving forward.”

Hewko says that beginning Oct. 3, many of the Rotary staff will be returning to Rotary Center, working up to three days a week at the office, and the rest remotely.

“I’m looking forward,” Hewko says, “to seeing some familiar faces and collaborating with colleagues face to face.”

Also looking forward to seeing those faces are downtown business owners.

Dollop General Store, a coffee house/cafe, opened recently a half-a-block from the Rotary Center.

Dollop General Store is one of the downtown businesses which will benefit from the return of Rotary employees.

Co-manager Kory Kenehan says it’s “great” that the potential customer base will increase soon.

Kenehan says he’s looking forward to making more “gourmet lattes,” as well as possibly adding a stage with live entertainment some time in the future.

While five days a week for Rotary workers would be better than three for the downtown economy, the director of the Downtown Evanston marketing group says three days is certainly a boost.

“I think after everything we are hearing and learning from other downtowns,” says Annie Coakley, “three days a week is great.”

Many businesses, she notes, are not coming back to their downtowns yet or perhaps even at all, “so a hybrid return is a great start.”

While Rotary International is, of course, the main tenant in Rotary Center, there are others, with varying degrees of in-person work.

Spokesperson Chanele Williams tells Evanston Now there are more than 20 tenants, including healthcare, educational and financial services professionals.

Williams says some did fully return in mid-2020, others have been phasing in hybrid schedules or will be coming back to full strength in-person later this year.

Rotary, of course, is the single tenant with the most potential impact on surrounding businesses.

One of the new Rotary street signs going up around town.

And while the timing is purely coincidence, signs are now going up around Evanston recognizing this city as the home of Rotary International.

Evanston has been headquarters for the worldwide service organization for 68 years.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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