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The Evanston WestEnd district is composed of several small- to mid-size commercial enterprises and manufacturing and technology companies bounded on the north and south by Greenwood and Main streets and on the east and west by Dodge and Pitner avenues. The district is still fairly new – it was formed in January 2010, according to the City of Evanston website, to create a commercial district that is “defined by a singular corridor or geographic boundary and mostly involve[s] retail business owners coordinating together to promote their shopping districts,” a concept that had already existed in Evanston for several years.
A wide variety of companies operates within the WestEnd. While the district had almost exclusively consisted of industrial and manufacturing companies in the past, it has since added dozens of new types of businesses to their roster, including ones specializing in residential design, woodworking, support for those with autism, and musical/art therapy. Two WestEnd businesses in particular, International Refining and Manufacturing Company (IRMCO) and Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse, have seamlessly worked together over the years, growing and building off of each other.
International Refining and Manufacturing Company (IRMCO), a WestEnd company that manufactures lubricants and oil-free metals, has been in business for almost a century, operating in Evanston since 1919. IRMCO is unique not only in its business, but in its production as well– they exclusively use water-based or synthetic materials that are found in nature, omitting oil and other toxins from their products.
Being environmentally-conscious is not just a recent development for the company; according to IRMCO President Jennifer Kalas, they have been green “since the 80s.” Their website also claims that IRMCO was the first industry to use and trademark the phrase “LeanGreen metal forming,” which refers to IRMCO’s accomplishment of “eliminating more than 10 million gallons of oil based forming fluids” through “careful discipline and attention to detail.”
When it comes to present and future projects for IRMCO, Ms. Kalas said the company is working on creating higher strength steel and aluminum, as well as new lightweight metals and lubricants for gas emissions. The company has also developed what they are calling the “IRMCO iTool,” which is a “cup draw test tool [that] can measure and compare the frictional forces and deformation temperatures exhibited by one lubricant versus another,” according to an IRMCO informational brochure.
Ms. Kalas has been the company’s president for five years, first arriving in 2000 as Chief Financial Officer. She said that she had previously been working on the South Side of Chicago before being hired by IRMCO. “[The WestEnd is] a great area. There are lots of new businesses, and everybody works together– it’s really awesome that way,” she said.
Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse
The Evanston Rebuilding Warehouse (ERW) first opened the doors to its 11,000 square-foot gallery in 2010, when Executive Director Lou Dickson, who was working as a general contractor at the time, decided to create a home for reusable building and construction materials other than landfills. Since then, ERW has become a rapidly growing, self-sufficient nonprofit organization for the WestEnd.
“The goal is to keep things out of landfills,” Ms. Dickson said. “[ERW is] very much centered in the community because we believe that everyone should be able to afford to fix up their house. It’s helping other nonprofit organizations, but it is also keeping beautiful, 19th century old growth lumber and things out of landfills.”
In addition to providing a safe haven for these materials, ERW offers a seven-month long training program where Evanston residents – usually those who have been incarcerated at one point in their lives – are taught construction and deconstruction, earn certifications, and learn the necessary skills to keeping a full-time job. ERW also teaches classes for the community, including an architecture class.
“Everything’s donated that’s sold here: We get [materials] from homeowners, we get it from contractors, we get it from developers – those are our primary groups of people that donate. People who shop here come from that group, plus artists… it’s a wide range of people. It’s a five state area that shops here,” said Ms. Dickson.
ERW recently received a 2016 Responsive Grant Award from the Evanston Community Foundation, its third grant from the Foundation. Said Ms. Dickson of the award, “Four-and-a-half years ago we had our first workforce training and deconstruction where we did the national model, which was two weeks, and I really did not think that satisfied the need, because it was really preparing them to just know how to do a few soft and hard skills. … All the other things of how to keep a job and things like that were not incorporated, so people aren’t working in deconstruction. So we abandoned that, we did a couple of workforce trainings and warehousing, and then ultimately the goal was to get back to deconstruction. It is very much part of how we see ourselves, because we don’t have very many grants. … The idea is that we can do pure community development, so part of community development is giving people the tools to basically better their lives and themselves as human beings as well.”
“Responsive grants are tied to specific activities, so the last two years (2014/15 and 2015/16) they had to do with workforce training,” she continued. “This year is half of a part-time salary for a development director, so [the grant will be used] to expand this area and so we can increase the number of teams who are doing deconstruction.”
In terms of ERW’s location in the WestEnd, Ms. Dickson went as far as to say that the WestEnd is the best business association in North America. She explained how both ERW and Nature’s Perspective Landscaping are working together to help IRMCO with the reconstruction of their second floor, and how Nature’s Perspective gladly lent ERW a forklift when they were in need.
“We love being in the WestEnd,” said Ms. Dickson. “It’s a more industrial part of Evanston, and it’s surrounded by people who care. I don’t think we would necessarily have the same reception if we were in any other area in Evanston– that may not be true, I have no idea– but it’s really been embraced here and we’re very much part of the community.”