Evanston City Planner Cade Sterling (left) and Council member Clare Kelly (1st Ward) participate in the Legacy Business Program meeting on Sept. 29 at the Morton Civic Center. Credit: Matt SImonette

City organizers and prospective participants in the Legacy Business Program met Sept. 29 at the Evanston Civic Center to discuss the scope of the new effort.

The program, intended both to celebrate and ensure the long-term stability of established Evanston businesses and organizations, has been under discussion for several months. Community members can nominate possible legacy businesses via a Google form.

Hecky’s Barbecue, an Evanston institution since 1983, and other local businesses were represented at the Legacy Business Program meeting. Credit: Evanston Chamber of Commerce

Owners and representatives from Bennison’s Bakery, Hecky’s Barbecue, Chiropractic First, Belgian Chocolatier Piron and Cahill Plumbing were among those who took part in last week’s meeting, which was intended for brainstorming ideas about the program as well as determining an allocation amount to seek from City Council in the future.

City officials developing the group are City Council members Clare Kelly (1st Ward), and Melissa Wynne (3rd Ward); Preservation Commissioners Carl Klein and Suzi Reinhold; Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmazek; and City Planner Cade Sterling. Kelly, Klein, Reinhold and Sterling all took part in the Sept. 29 meeting. 

“Businesses become part of people’s collective memory of Evanston,” Sterling said at the meeting. “… There are some people who define a neighborhood by a business there.”

Sterling said the program seeks to celebrate the history of longtime Evanston businesses as well as offer financial and/or strategic assistance to business owners who need it.

Kelly said the city has allocated $100,000 to launch the program. Sterling said he thought a $500,000 allocation in future years would be adequate to provide financial assistance to five to 10 businesses as well as promotional services for other participants.

Businesses will be encouraged to nominate themselves for the award, Kelly said. To be eligible for consideration, the business will have to have been open for at least 20 years.

The potential assistance the program will offer exactly is still up in the air; participants spoke about rental assistance, for example, but what form that takes hasn’t been determined yet.

Sterling suggested the city might aid business owners contending with difficult landlords and encourage those landlords to negotiate long-term leases.

However, Meggie Smith of Chiropractic First said small-business owners sometimes have to leverage the prospect of going elsewhere to get agreeable terms from landlords – so businesses might sometimes find a shorter lease preferable. 

The group also discussed the prospect of direct financial assistance to business owners, but most agreed that, were it to come to fruition, that assistance would be one-time only.

Reinhold predicted the program’s coffers would empty out quickly should direct-payment financial assistance be promised for over a longer term. Other forms of assistance might include mentorship services or aiding with formulating business plans.

Another key component of the program will be its promotional services for the community; a request for proposals has already been sent out for design and web services. Group participants on Sept. 29 saw sample promotional materials, including items such as plaques and tote bags, from a similar legacy program in San Francisco.

Sterling said that of the 31 businesses that had been suggested as Legacy Business participants, the majority were outside of downtown, and many were not part of a business district organization like Downtown Evanston. He said he hoped the Legacy Business program would call attention to their work and help as many businesses across the city as possible prepare for future challenges.

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  1. The city must be aware of the negative impact that the rigidity of parking enforcement, including the pay boxes that this has upon the local businesses..

    .. (having.been at the receiving end of this on four or five occasions and one in which damage was done to my car, caused me to no longer shop in downtown or anywhere where there were parking pay boxes in Evanston, going to Wilmette and the shopping centers instead.)

  2. People vote with their feet, so it behoves any business to not only recognize this, but to be steadfast with the consumers need for consistency in the quality of their product and service..

    ..if it is not made and served with genuine love and not the plastic robotic type that is common these days like the “ have a nice day,” that’s as annoying as the neighbors constantly barking dog might be.

    Quality and service were neck and neck as they crossed the finish line, sharing the winnings equally.

    That’s how it must be in this increasingly competitive “on line key stroke,” market places of today.

    (It’s also incumbent upon the consumer to acknowledge to the vendor, their appreciation for the vendors being here..so don’t just take it for granted that the sound of the cash register is the only music the vendors have an ear for.)