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Central Street is Evanston’s longest street, stretching east-to-west from Sheridan past Crawford to the city limits. The Central Street Business Association is glad to report this long street is home to some of the city’s longest-lasting organizations, starting with Northwestern Athletics, founded in 1896, and Flader’s Plumbing, founded in 1918.
At its fall quarterly meeting Sept. 14, the association celebrated long-time businesses with 40 years or more on the street. The original plan was to salute those who’d been here for 25 years, “which seemed like a lot of years,” said board member Patty O’Neill-Cynkar, “but there were just so many. We had to raise the cut-off to 40 years. Even then we found 17 businesses to celebrate.”
Association president Steve Farmer, co-owner of Happy Husky Bakery, presented to each honoree a handsome glass block with the business name and founding year etched on it. Honorees included Apelian Carpets & Orientals, founded 1946; Chester & Chester cabinetry design studio, 1952; Christian Science Reading Room, 1955; Coiffeur Copenhagen, 1964; Evanston Art Center, 1966; Evanston Public Library’s North Branch, 1952; Evanston School of Ballet Foundation, 1968; Flader Plumbing & Heating Co, 1918; Harold’s True Value Hardware, 1959; Mustard’s Last Stand, 1969; Spex and its earlier iterations, 1976; Northwestern Athletics, 1896; Dan Nykaza, a doctor at the corner of Hartrey since 1971; Preston’s Flowers, 1949; Schermerhorn & Co. realty, 1967; Tag’s Bakery, 1937; and Unity Church on the North Shore, 1960.
The event was “awesome,” said Patty O’Neill-Cynkar, owner of Perennials.
“We must be doing something right,” said Rachel Hershinow, owner of Stella. “I’m so proud to be part of this long history with so many mom and pop businesses. They’re the heart and soul of our street.”
Flader’s Plumbing is a three-generation family store run by Bill Flader since 1976. He followed in the footsteps of his grandfather Fred and his father Calvin. Now his son Douglas is in line to take over. Flader’s started out at 1922 Central and moved to 3004 in 1970.
Dan Cawley of Harold’s Hardware also knows Central Street from end to end. Cawley’s family hardware store started in 1959 close to Green Bay. In 1977 when the whole corner was torn down for the project where Chase Bank is now, the Cawleys moved their store down the street to 2912 Central. It was about then that Dan took over from his dad Harry. Now Dan’s son John runs the store, and John’s two sisters — Sue Cawley Warrick and Pattie Cawley Davenport — work there. Harold? No, there’s no Harold in the family. Never was, John says. When Cawley’s moved down the street, the family bought an existing business and just kept the name.
Family tradition is part of the Central Street tradition. Mustard’s Last Stand has been owned by the same guy since 1969, Jerry Starkman. He runs the hot dog stand with sons Steve and Lonnie. Garry Apelian is the third generation of Apelians to run the carpet business since his grandfather Harry started it in 1946.
The Evanston Art Center isn’t a family business so much as a community enterprise. It was founded in 1929, finally settling in at 800 Greenwood for 20 years until it arrived at Central Street in 1966. That’s when it moved into 2603 Sheridan at Central. It thrived in the former Harley Clarke mansion on Lake Michigan for 49 years. In 2015 it moved west to 1717 Central, a former office building, and a new slogan was adopted: “Where creativity meets community.” Of course, other cultural institutions are at home on Central, too, like the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian at 3001 Central, not to mention the 4th of July parade with its floats and bands marching down the street every year since 1922.
The business association has monthly board meetings, but quarterly meetings are social events. Different members host these meetings at their work place. For example, the last two were held at the new Art Center digs and the Duxler garage.
Northwestern Athletics hosted last week’s meeting — an appropriate choice to honor Central Street’s oldest businesses. After all, it is the oldest on the street, started as co-founder of the Big Ten in 1896 and moving its playing fields to Central Street in 1905. It held the meeting at Northwestern’s Ryan Field in a skybox described by Steve Farmer as “spectacular” with views of Evanston, the lake and the Chicago skyline.
Before the meeting began, the 70-some guests focused on historic photos and newspaper clippings of Central Street posted on bulletin boards at the back of the room. “They worked as an ice breaker,” Mr. Farmer said, “starting conversations back and forth about who remembered what.” He said Mary Lou Smith, who used to run the Top of the Tracks café at the Central Street Metra station, brought a beautiful 1940s picture of a big old Chicago & North Western steam engine paused on the viaduct at Green Bay while scores of passengers flood the stairway. The library’s neighborhood services director, Connie Heneghen, brought pictures of the North Branch Library in the early 1950s when it first moved out of the schools and into a former Jewel Food Store. In fact, a hanging newspaper rack in those pictures looks just like the one still in use.
“We had a great time and we all agreed that it’s a wonderful street,” Steve Farmer said. He and his Happy Husky Bakery co-owner Todd Ruppenthal are practically newcomers with only eight years on the street, but Mr. Farmer said, “We’re planning to stay a long time.”