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.
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.
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.