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On Tuesday, Sept. 28, community supporters will gather at the future home of The Aux, a former Evanston produce factory set to be transformed into a hub for Black-owned businesses dedicated to community wellness.
The two-hour event – which runs from 5 to 7 p.m. at 2223 Washington St. – kicks off fundraising efforts and showcases the entrepreneurs who will open their doors once renovations are complete. The Aux has raised its first $1 million through a partnership with The Growing Season, a nonprofit organization, and has a goal of $6 million by early 2022.
“Soon the lingering potato smell here will be transformed into the inviting aroma of Chef Q’s kitchen and gardens and the taste of 4 Suns natural juices,” Tiffini Holmes, an Evanston native and co-developer of The Aux, said in a news release, highlighting two of the tenant partners.
“But, more importantly,” Holmes said, “what we currently see as an abandoned building will be transformed into a mecca of wellness – housing 10-plus minority- or women-owned businesses, creating jobs and bringing economic growth to a marginalized community.”
Holmes is the co-owner of Well Beings Chicago, a new health and fitness company she founded with Chicago resident Gabori Partee. Well Beings Chicago will be an anchor tenant in The Aux, providing a full range of health and wellness services to support mind, body and spirit.
“As a Black man, it’s tough to lift a business off the ground,” Partee said in the news release. Partee, a fitness trainer and U.S. Marine veteran, added, “The supportive environment of The Aux means everything. It’s catalytic at a time when we need systems to shift for businesses of color and our communities to survive and thrive.”
City leadership has recognized The Aux’s importance and urgency. “I’m excited that these small businesses will be coming to the Second Ward, especially at a time when it’s critical that we all focus on an equitable economic recovery,” Evanston City Council member Peter Braithwaite said in the news release.
“The Aux is a celebration of the vision, determination and hustle of Evanston’s Black women and an opportunity for our city to tangibly support the equity and diversity we profess,“ Council member Cicely Fleming said in the release.
Black-owned businesses have a small footprint in Evanston, and entrepreneurs of color face significant challenges accessing quality commercial space and the capital needed to launch a business. The pandemic has added unprecedented economic strain, and entrepreneurs of color nationwide have been disproportionately affected by the ongoing economic hardship.
Sunshine Enterprises, a nonprofit organization serving rising, underresourced entrepreneurs throughout the Chicago area in starting and growing their businesses, will partner with The Aux. It will support entrepreneurs through coaching, workshops and microgrants and contribute to a healthy line of small business tenants for The Aux’s pop-up market spaces.
The Aux will bring together services to support physical, emotional, social, spiritual and financial wellness. The Laundry Cafe, an anchor tenant on the north end, for example, plans to create a modern and welcoming environment for families to do laundry in an uplifting environment. The space will also provide a cafe, access to Wi-Fi, a children’s learning space and a small stage for community programs. Patrons will have the opportunity to join a wellness class or grab a healthy bite at The Aux while they wait for their load to finish.
Tosha Wilson and Jacqui White, also Evanston natives and Aux co-developers, are co-owners of The Laundry Cafe. “The Aux is important to growth and representation,” Wilson said in the release. “It will change the narrative of what real equity looks like and how Black-owned businesses can succeed.”
Reflecting on her upbringing in Evanston, Wilson said, “Before, you knew who the hardware store owner was, and it provided an example of exactly what you need to do and how you need to get that done. Growing up, business owners that looked like you were essential to providing the example of what was and is possible. It was the norm and not passé.”
“We need to bring that back and give future generations something to look forward to,” White said.
Source: Fix Development