Members of the city’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) took their biggest step forward in establishing a program honoring legacy businesses. Committee members voted at their Wednesday, July 27, meeting to allocate up to $100,000 in funding for the project.

Council member Clare Kelly (First Ward) proposed creating the program, which officials hope to use to retain long-standing Evanston businesses, which have long been regarded as a key element in the city’s economic development strategy.

Hecky’s Barbecue owner Cheryl Judice speaks in support of a city Legacy business program at the July 27 Economic Development Committee meeting. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

Under the program, the city would establish a Legacy Business Registry that would formally recognize contributions to the city by such businesses. 

The proposed program could include a dedicated website with a business guide, the featured businesses and city recognition – such as a plaque, branding, window decal, an announcement from the mayor or a combination of these – calling attention to the business.

Grants could run up to $25,000 per business, or $10,000 per property owner, officials suggested.

Here through ‘good and challenging times’

At the July 27 meeting, several owners of long-standing businesses spoke in favor of the program, including Cheryl Judice, owner of Hecky’s Barbecue, 1902 Green Bay Road. “When Hecky passed in May of 2020, I was tasked with following through on our plan to renovate the restaurant,” Judice told committee members. 

“Hecky’s opened on Oct. 13, 1982,” she said. “So it was well past time to update. This was a very costly venture.”

Judice said she appreciated the support the city has shown toward long-established businesses, which play a vital role in the city’s economy, she said.

“We are the merchants that have stayed. We’ve taken our businesses through good and challenging times. While we recognize the need to continually bring in new businesses to grow the economic base, this initiative to acknowledge and support legacy businesses is a vote of confidence and recognition of our roles and serves to bolster our spirits as we strive to recover from the pandemic’s economic challenge.”

She added a saying from her husband, Hecky, one of the community’s most popular figures at the time of his death. In responding to a question about how he managed to stay in business so long and how he felt about competition, he said, “I belong to the ‘B Club,” he used to say,” she recalled. “‘I will BE here when they come and I will be here when they go.’”

Also weighing in were Dave Glatt, owner of Dave’s Italian Kitchen at 815 Noyes St., which is now in its 50th year of business in Evanston, and John Cahill, Sr., of John Cahill Inc., 1515 Church St., a family-owned plumbing business dating back to the 1890s.

Cahill, in a letter read at the committee meeting, observed, “Legacy businesses have a very strong and long-term commitment to churches, synagogues, schools, service clubs and many other groups that support our youth, support our future.”

“Many of our businesses have not been here as long as our company,” he added, “but just as giving in time and money as we have been for years.”

The committee’s first allocation of up to $100,000 will be used to support a number of activities, Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development Manager, said in a memo.

These include commissioning a local artist to design a recognition plaque and a local vendor to produce it; creating a branding identity and logo tied with the design and establishing a website domain.

Future funding of the program will depend on the City Council increasing the Economic Development Division budget to accommodate the new program, Zalmezak said.

Meanwhile Kelly, whose first ward includes a portion of the downtown business district, has already hosted a meeting with a small group of interested community members and economic development staff to make recommendations on how the program will run, said Zalmezak, including determining selection criteria, such as years in business and cultural importance.

San Francisco, the first city to establish a legacy program, offers annual grants to the businesses that make up its Legacy registry (up to 300). In that program, grants may be as high as $500 per employee as well as a $4.50-per-square-foot grant to property owners who extend 10-year leases to tenants, staff reported. 

Grants are up to $50,000 per business and $22,500 for property owners, according to a staff memo about the San Francisco program.

Since its inception, the program has helped more than 230 businesses and nonprofits.

Bob Seidenberg

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.

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