The Aux, a planned $6 million redevelopment in Evanston , seeks to transform a vacant produce factory into a vibrant community hub for Black-owned businesses that offer community wellness services. Credit: Nia Architects rendering

The Aux, which has been working since 2020 to establish a space dedicated to empowering Black businesses in Evanston, is set to receive $1.5 million from the state of Illinois. That will put the Black-owned business hub just $500,000 away from its $7.5 million fundraising goal.

“I think it’s huge to have the state back us,” said Tosha Wilson, an Evanston Police Department officer and one of the founders of The Aux. “I think when you get that kind of support, you get some credibility.”

Black-owned businesses make up 11% of Illinois businesses. The state recently started honoring these companies every August for Black Business Month, which includes events and initiatives such as Shop Black-owned Business Saturdays to encourage customers to support Black retailers.

Cousins Tosha Wilson (left) and Jacqui White are co-founders of The Aux.

Wilson and Jacqui White – her cousin, fellow EPD officer and co-founder of The Aux – reached out to State Sen. Laura Fine, State Rep. Robyn Gabel and County Commissioner Larry Suffredin to garner their support.

“As I learned more and more about the project, and how it’s helped so many people and changed so many communities, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, Evanston is the ideal place to have something like this,’’ Fine told the RoundTable

Fine has worked to get The Aux $1.5 million from the state’s general revenue budget. The timeline for when The Aux will receive the funding is up in the air, Fine said, adding that the money may have to be allocated in the next budget year.

The $1.5 million is to be given to The Aux via its fiscal agent, The Growing Season, a nonprofit organization focused on community wellness.

White and Wilson met Lori Laser, Chief Executive Officer of The Growing Season, in 2020 as they were looking for ways to start their own business, The Laundry Cafe, in Evanston’s Fifth Ward. The Laundry Cafe, or TLC for short, was envisioned as a spot for people to wash their laundry and also have a cup of coffee, relax and access Wi-Fi.

Now that original dream has expanded. The Aux will house 10 or more Black businesses, including TLC, and create more than 30 local jobs, according to its website. 

Back in April, the Evanston City Council voted to give The Aux $1 million from the city’s allotment of federal American Recovery Plan Act funding. The Aux has also received other large donations, including $500,000 from the Mather senior living residence and another $500,000 from NorthShore’s Community Investment Fund.

The Aux plans to open a location on the west side of Evanston at 2223 Washington St. in fall 2023. The 16,000-square-foot building used to be a vegetable factory, but it will soon be a hub for several Black-owned businesses.

Nadine Cochrane, Terika Davis and Tiffany Wilson examine the floor plan of The Aux at its Raise and Reveal event in September 2021. Credit: Evan Girard

The Aux plans to host a community equity launch event this fall. At the event, the group will define its equity plan and explain what it means to invest in The Aux.

“We’re very proud of our accomplishments thus far,” Wilson said. “We just have a little ways to go. And we’re hoping that people will come join us at the equity launch.”

Gina Castro

Gina Castro is a Racial Justice fellow for the Evanston RoundTable. She recently earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism where she studied investigative...

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  1. Am I missing something regarding The AUX? $7,500,000 for 16,000 square feet or $468 per square foot or $750,000 per business start-up. For comparison I have had a 100,000 square foot building in Chicago’s Garfield Park for 15 years filled with a very friendly, very diverse community of more than 70 business start-ups at a cost of about $2,500,000. And I have had a 22,000 square foot arts building in Chicago’s Lakeview for 35 years filled with close to 100 artists at a cost of about $1,300,000. There has been no government assistance provided.