Several hundred Evanstonians descended on the building at the intersection of Pitner Avenue and Washington Street for the “Raise and Reveal” of The Aux, the site for a planned business incubator for African American-owned businesses, some already established and others getting ready to launch. The name “Aux,” derived from the auxiliary jack on a sound system, refers to “plugging in and inspiring change,” using a business model in which tenants work together, share resources and support each other. Most of the businesses have a focus on wellness.
The main stage occupied the future site of The Laundry Cafe, just north of the main entrance to the building. On either side of the stage, bartenders working with Chef Q served wine or spritzers made with 4 Suns Fresh Juice.
Once inside, patrons had opportunities to speak with the entrepreneurs and explore some of the goods and services that will be produced and provided in the building, which is expected to open in March 2022.
Badge Brew Coffee Roasters served up samples of the dark roast brew, Jake’s Bakes handed out its Oatmeal Cinna-Scotch cookies, and Gabrielle JP Walker shared sips of her special spiced tea. Servers moved through the crowd with trays of appetizers prepared by Chef Q’s team.
On the wall at the end of a long hall, a beautiful painting of a tree served as a backdrop for photos. Patrons were invited to share their thoughts or blessings for the project on clear stickers that were then pasted up on the wall with leaves, extending the image of new growth on branches of the tree, rooted in the space. Messages included, “success & blessings,” “Aux-ome,” “Deep roots = path to flourish” and “Black girl magic. Black boy joy.”
Many of the co-founders took the stage to talk about the work they’ve done and continue to do to make The Aux a reality.
Chef Q said, “I need you guys to invest in The Aux. I need you guys to think about the black businesses that are here and how you can support these businesses because this is something we need so that we can support our communities and our future. I’m so excited to be here because this means that I too have a support system. This is the place that all of you can come and sit down and do laundry and drink juice and read a book and have some coffee, grab some food, take a class, learn gardening. This is a black business hub.”
Tosha Wilson talked about changing the narrative and pointed out that the renderings on the wall were by a black-owned architect company, Nia Architects, and that The Aux will be looking for black construction companies to do the buildout. She said, “We want to be able to say, ‘We did this,’ and no one else will be able to say that’s not possible.”
The co-founders also acknowledged the support they’ve received from some major donors, and from Lori Laser’s organization The Growing Season in seeking resources for the startup. Laser will also operate her mindfulness business in The Aux.
To date, The Aux has raised approximately $1 million of the $6 million needed to complete the project.