Downtown stores are missing the usual foot traffic which supports the business district. RoundTable photo

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Evanston’s downtown businesses are contending with more than a few challenges right now, said Annie Coakley, Executive Director of Downtown Evanston, in a report at the First Ward community meeting on Dec. 1.

The nonprofit organization provides marketing and management services to businesses in downtown’s Special Service District.

Online behemoths like Amazon and big box retail stores “are always going to be a threat to our smaller independents,” said Ms. Coakley, in the meeting, aired over Zoom.

On top of that, because of the pandemic, “so many people are working from home,” she said. “And that’s almost 10,000 people that would normally be coming to downtown Evanston to eat lunch and pump a lot of money into the economy. We’re missing them – the stores are missing them. So that’s a huge one, the daytime population.

“And then the lack of events is another big one,” she said. “You know, we don’t have conferences – we’re not convening conference meetings, professional meetings, weddings. Anybody that helped fill up our hotels would normally trickle out to the economy and spend money in our stores and restaurants.”

Big 10 football was another draw, too, and with games played minus fans “we’ve lost a lot of the tourism industry in that regard,” she said.

Throw in the weather turning really cold, and “outdoor dining is basically nonexistent at this point,” she said.

Office-building owners are looking for their tenants – and potential shoppers – to begin returning to their workplaces, but that may not take place until spring, she said.

In the meantime, Ms. Coakley and City economic officials are urging downtown supporters to take the “Takeout Pledge.”

“We’re just asking people essentially if they can to redirect maybe $25, $30 of your grocery money to a takeout or delivery option,” she said.

Ordering curbside is preferable, because then restaurants do not have to work with third-party delivery systems, which cut further into their bottom line, she said.

Restaurant customers ordering food for takeout will benefit from an ordinance passed by the Evanston City Council at its Nov. 30 meeting, which limits the fee third-party delivery systems can charge.

The proposal prohibits third-party delivery platforms from charging restaurants in the City more than 15% in fees.

“With no immediate end in sight to the pandemic and the restrictions in place due to the pandemic, there is no termination date for the delivery-fee cap,” staff noted in a memo.

Along with the “Takeout Pledge,” the business community is promoting another program, “Find Your Silver Lining in Downtown Evanston,” Ms. Coakley said.

Passbooks for the program can be obtained at local businesses. Shoppers who spend a minimum of $100 or more at local shops will be eligible for a giveaway, including Downtown Evanston’s annual holiday mug, Ms. Coakley said. “It will pay to save those receipts.”

A copy of the passbook can be downloaded at bit.ly/SilverLiningPassbook.)