Space housing Eco and the Flamingo is now available.

If ever there was a community where a “zero waste” store would work — bring your own containers, buy things in bulk, no plastic packaging, organic and recyclable goods — you’d think it would be progressive, ecologically-minded Evanston.

That’s what the owners of Eco and the Flamingo, who called their business “Evanston’s First Zero-Waste General Store,” thought.

But the store, which had its grand opening on Jan. 21, lasted only five months, shutting its doors on May 29.

Customers shopping on Grand Opening day in January.

“Business was so slow,” a store representative told Evanston Now, “that we’d suffer lower losses if we just closed it.”

Eco and the Flamingo had filled the vacant former Subway sandwich shop storefront at 1551 Sherman Ave. downtown.

As with so many other small businesses, the COVID-19 pandemic did not help, pushing the grand opening back two months.

While the store tried mightily to build a customer base, with advertising and social media, “it was pretty obvious pretty fast,” the store rep said, that things weren’t going as well as planned.

The original Eco and the Flamingo, in Chicago’s Lincoln Square, remains open.

And, said the spokesperson, “we’re regrouping, and hope to try again somewhere else.”

But not Evanston.

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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8 Comments

  1. I went there a few times but am not surprised… there were a LOT of things I thought they could have done better, speaking as a small biz owner myself. They always looked closed because the store was so dim. Signage was insufficient to help people know they were doing the right thing and in the right place. They had good inventory, but not a comprehensive list of that inventory. When I asked if there was a take-home pantry list, they said ‘oh just check the website’ – which is not good at all.

    Did they have an instagram? a tiktok? I don’t know, there weren’t any signs about it. And they clearly don’t know the real town. Evanston claims to be eco friendly but that’s laughable. People drive 4 blocks to get somewhere and then circle around for 4 more blocks to park. Restaurants use plastic and styrofoam in mounds, plastic Target bags float in the tree branches, so the Evanston brand does not reflect the reality. If they wanted to bring this concept here, it’s a huge change in behavior for Evanston ppl, and they needed to invest in way more hand-holding about how to buy.

    1. Thanks, Katherine, for voicing hard truths about Evanston’s “progressive” habits. This city is totally car-brained, and residents’ constant whining about parking downtown has done nothing to keep businesses alive. We’re long overdue for a pedestrian- and transit-friendly change in our priorities.

    1. I have been many times to the original location and found that there the prices were quite reasonable and the staff was friendly and helpful.

  2. I wanted to be a super fan of this store. I washed out some old containers and went with high hopes. I paid $10 to refill a shampoo bottle I bought full for $5. The staff was charming, but confused and the shampoo was inferior. I resent all the plastic in the world, but I resented the hassle, cost and bad soap too.

  3. I’m sure there are many possible explanations for why it didn’t work out, but to me it was just a really odd location. The downtown area doesn’t have a lot of residential housing (compared to other parts of the city), and there was no parking to drive in. It wasn’t even particularly close to the L. I went once and had to park 2 blocks away, haul all my empties there, then haul the (very heavy) filled containers back to my car. It just wasn’t convenient. I do wish they could try again, perhaps in South Evanston. A little shop on Main Street or Dempster would be so much more accessible to both foot traffic, the L, and easier parking.

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