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Like Rudolph, Evanston’s plucky, homegrown hero, the City’s small business owners are braving an economic fog to light the way to the holidays. From south Evanston to north, local merchants are finding innovative ways to attract shoppers. And in the spirit of the season, many are returning a portion of their profits to the community.
On Main Street, Vogue Fabrics debuts its new “Holi-daze” event on Dec. 1. Manager Charlotte Sussman says prices will decrease each week, Dec. 1-20 – from 30 percent off the first week to 60 percent the third – on four of the store’s largest, most popular fabric collections. Despite its vast selection of high-end material, Vogue still aims “to have the lowest prices,” says Ms. Sussman – just as her grandfather did when he founded the store in 1945.
Across the street, Ten Thousand Villages saw its business increase by 2.5 percent this fall, says manager Doug Horst. He attributes the rise to “the ethical aspect” – fair wages for its third-world craftsmen – of this retailer of artisan-crafted wares from around the globe. Customers are aware of “helping other people directly, most of whom are worse off than we,” he says. Even in these tough economic times, he says, “People still feel generous.”
Down the block at Healthy Green Goods, owner Marny Turvill will include a free gift with purchases over $50 and has arranged for some favorite local vendors to do in-store product demos in December. Ms. Turvill says business is holding steady, she thinks because “a lot of people are turning to green and healthy.”
Along the Davis Street “green belt,” Ethical Planet has found a related niche: For its vegan clientele, “we offer a choice where there is none or it is difficult to find,” says proprietor Fran Horvath.
In central downtown, Kelli Poulos is staging an unprecedented “20-percent-off-everything” event at the hip Asinamali the weekend after Thanksgiving. Asinamali and CouCou, the women’s boutique next door, are selling “a lot of accessories,” she says – items to perk up an old coat or frock. Uncle Dan’s Camping and Travel has moved to Church Street just west of the el tracks, operating out of its old space as an outlet store on weekends. Nearby, customers are more cautious these days, says Michael Lembeck, whose Williams Shoes The Walking Spirit is known for its quality and range of styles.
At the Celtic Knot Public House, Anglophiles can immerse themselves and their loved ones in tradition by settling down with a pint for Greg Weiss’s reading of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” at 2 p.m. on Dec. 7. A block – or a hemisphere – away, Lulu’s Dim Sum still offers lovers of Asian food “a pleasant dining experience for less money than the high-end restaurants,” says owner Dan Kelch.
National chain Barnes & Noble is inviting Evanston customers to buy a children’s book for donation to Children’s Home + Aid, a local non-profit agency that cares for children who can no longer live in foster homes.
Customers of Teresa Marie Yantar on Grove Street will find a pre-holiday sale rack with a sampling of the “high-quality handmade” linen knitwear the owner imports from her native Poland, says Paul Kowalczyk. Despite a downturn in sales, he anticipates an influx of holiday visitors that gives him “hope for a good holiday season.”
On Central Street, the owners of Mindscape Adornments and Table Manners are collaborating: From Nov. 21 to Dec. 24 customers on their mailing lists will get 20 percent off purchases of more than $50. And 10 percent of the price of purchases over $150 –of their handcrafted jewelry and clothing, home decor and tabletop accessories, etc. – will go to the Food Assistance Center of Evanston (FACE).
East of the Metra tracks, Preston’s Florist wants to remind others to remember what they tell their customers in a Christmas letter: “Whatever orders come in first get the best quality [plants and flowers].”
Tom Douvikas of D & D Grocery says his customers may not buy “the most expensive items in the store, but they come in.” His Noyes Street neighbor, Annaliese’s Moor Care, says they are “sticking with what we have.” Thanks to regular clients, they say, they are still in the business of therapeutic massage.
Business is going gangbusters at the Frame Warehouse on Dempster, says Paul Hamer. The store’s monthly exhibits have drawn attention to some undiscovered local artists. And he suspects their special customer service contributes to the store’s success.
Farther east, patrons may want to linger in the calm of Judy Igliori’s Shaker Traditions after dropping off outerwear or buying a raffle ticket to benefit local charities. Ms. Igliori’s selection of well-designed American gifts and furnishings attests to the enduring qualities of Shaker style.
The outside of Casita Azul Folk Art is already decorated for the holidays, says Jill Negronida – the better to catch the eyes of passers-by on Chicago Avenue. Customers are shopping earlier than usual, she says, choosing from gifts by artists in Mexico, the United States and cooperatives around the world.
Amid the shoes at ATE20, her Dempster Street sneakers boutique, Danielle Dickerson is creating community. She is hosting Sunday gatherings intended, she says, for “a new wave of people who are struggling.” The free get-togethers feature experts on mortgages and finance, health insurance, inexpensive holiday ideas – and knitting.
The turbulent economy is no secret, and Evanston businesses are feeling its effects. Customers, at the very least, are spending carefully, “buying what they need, not what they want,” said one entrepreneur. Merchants are making adjustments – ordering less, staying open fewer hours.
“But,” says Ms. Negronida, “people – at least our customers – are anxious to support small mom-and-pop stores like ours, to keep us viable. And there’s a lot of neighborhood support. …” Ours is a “real town,” not a mall, says EvMark, the organization of downtown businesses. Its mix of independent and chain stores, walkable city center and public transit just might “exempt it from recession fever,” EvMark suggests.
But that is only if businesses receive local support.
— Mary Mubrue, Abigail Uselding and Mary Gavin also contributed to this story.