Hot chocolate, a selfie with Santa or a Hanukkah Bubbe, a convenient chance to contribute to a charitable cause and support local businesses – nearly a day’s worth of holiday activities will reward drivers who take a quick detour to an Evanston alley on Saturday.
The business association Main-Dempster Mile is staging its MDM Holiday Drive-Through, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Dec. 19, as a thank-you to loyal customers who have stood by local businesses during the pandemic, says Katherine Gotsick, MDM Executive Director.
The event will take place at 600 Main St., along Train Station Alley, which runs between the Metra and CTA tracks.
The drive-through, a masked and distanced COVID version of the holiday walks that have lit up past Decembers in Evanston, comes at a time so crucial for small businesses that “no one can stop and take a breath,” Ms. Gotsick says. For many, holiday sales represent a significant percentage of their annual profits. Everyone is suffering this year, Ms. Gotsick says. Ten of the more than 260 businesses along the Main-Chicago-Dempster corridor have closed since the pandemic began, she says. The only consolation is that 10 more have opened.
In the holiday spirit, the businesses of MDM are reaching out to the public with the offer of a cheerful moment in a difficult time.
The drive-through promises a quick break in the day’s tasks or errands without compromising COVID safety. While supplies last, there will be hot chocolate from Blind Faith Café for all passengers in a car. Santa and the Bubbe will be handing out treats and posing for selfies through car windows.
The drive-through is not the only game in MDM town. Dec. 19 marks the end of Round 2 of MDM-created Lockdown Monopoly. Customers who bring in their game card along with receipts for purchases – including online – from any shops, restaurants or services on the Main-Dempster Mile on the day of the drive-through will receive a prize. A gift bag filled with MDM goods and items from Stumble & Relish, Shaker Traditions and The Architect’s Wife awaits patrons of the local businesses.
There will be a thank-you gift, too, for anyone who drops off a blanket for Vogue Fabric’s Project Linus Blanket Drive or non-perishable foods for Reprise Roasters’ Holiday Food Drive.
Project Linus bestows on seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise needy children the warmth and security of blankets and afghans handmade by volunteers. Reprise will have grocery boxes for pick-up by community members – no questions asked – on Dec. 22 and 23.
The Main-Dempster Mile, successor to the Main Street and Chicago/Dempster business districts, was created in 2014 when 60 small business owners in Southeast Evanston proposed the creation of a Special Service Area there. An SSA by Illinois statute is a contiguous part of a city or county in which special services such as advertising and public art are provided with funding from taxes levied on businesses in the area.
A committee of business and property owners, collaborating with a consultant, met with stakeholders and developed a budget and tax cap they presented to the Evanston City Council. Council established the SSA in the summer of 2015, and Ms. Gotsick was hired to lead the organization. She has her work cut out in the economic wake of the pandemic. “We’re promoting [the businesses]. Anything we can do for them, we are doing,” she says.
At the same time, MDM is connecting with the community by sponsoring neighborhood activities. As the Monopoly game is winding down, voting has begun on an MDM tree-trunk decorating contest. The fancy trimmings showing up on otherwise bare trees are coloring the winter streetscape for the holidays.
MDM is experienced at spreading good will. Potential participants in the Drive-Through have good reason to expect that the event will be as advertised – “1000 feet of awesome.”