Editor’s note: At its Nov. 30 meeting, the Economic Development Committee also considered a request for $475,000 from Bookends & Beginnings. That story is here.

Two businesses are asking the city to help them with big plans. And last week, they cleared the latest hurdle on the way to to the City Council to ensure funding approval.

One is a popular ice cream store and small corner grocery store across from Evanston Township High School. The owners, who are now tenants, would like to buy the property and transform it into a mecca for surrounding businesses.

Trish Thomas speaks before the Economic Development Committee during its Nov. 30 meeting.

The other is on the other side of town and a 27,000-square-foot vacant space next to the Autobarn Dealer Group. The owner there has been looking for years to relocate its manufacturing facility to Evanston, to make sure its commercial kitchen can begin rolling out healthy treats.

Evanston Economic Development Committee (EDC) members voted on Nov. 30 to support the major financial assistance to the two businesses:

  • $560,000 in West Evanston Tax Increment Finance District funds for Clarence and Wendy Weaver, owners of C&W Market and Ice Cream Parlor at 1901 Church St., to put toward their plan to acquire and renovate the building they currently rent.
  • $550,000 to Whole & Free Foods to complete improvements on a commercial/manufacturing kitchen behind the Jewel store on Howard Street at 2021 Autobarn Pl.

The Weavers’ request

The Weavers’ original request of $634,250 amounted to 41 percent of the project cost, Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development Committee manager, pointed out in a memo. Zalmezak wrote that “the city investment closes a financial gap for the Weavers who intend to improve the property to create six newly renovated apartments in addition to building improvements including roofing, HVAC and  plumbing.”

The Weavers opened C&W Market in 2014 by joining two barbers shops, a beauty supply sho, and a restaurant, Zalmezak noted. Six apartments are on the upper floors.

In June of 2022, C&W had a ribbon-cutting for its pantry. From left: Evanston City Council Member Bobby Burns, Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss; Rotarian and volunteer Bryant Wallace, Northwestern University student Tanya Bhargava, Wendy Weaver, NU student Anna Wittcoff, NU student Sydney Goldstein and Clarence Weaver. Behind Weaver is Larry Singer, board chair, Evanston Community Foundation. Credit: Wendi Kromash

Clarence Weaver told EDC members that he and his wife improved the property via security features, during their time as tenants. Yet, there’s a lot still to be done.

Council Member Devon Reid, 8th Ward, said he’s not usually enthusiastic about public money going to a private business. “I see this Committee do that a lot.”

The Weavers, though, he said, “have shown to be an integral part of this community,” and in fact, “are a shining example not only what it means to be a corporation but a corporate citizen, if you will.”

He noted the project includes a component for affordable housing.

Second Ward Council Member Krissie Harris said she also struggles with providing funds to private businesses. “But this is business that gives back to the community probably much more than we would be giving them.”

During COVID, she said she’s been in the store when people didn’t have the means “and they let them walk out with the item. So they give back to the community. They have been a beacon on that corner,” she said.

EDC member Lisa Dzeikan observed that C&W has served as a strong gateway to the whole corridor at its site, “so having a strong presence there and having a strong anchor there that is able to maintain and be able to support that property.”

C&W Market and Ice Cream Parlor. Photo by Sam Stroozas.

At the same time, she said, request amounts to more 40% of the total project cost. 

Paul Zalmezak, the city’s Economic Development manager, noted the importance of “remaining conservative on TIF investment guidelines” (i.e 25% maximum) to allow for TIF investment in infrastructure and higher impact projects that will bring higher numbers of affordable housing units, property tax revenues, etc.

Examples include the Emerson/Jackson properties and the Housing Opportunities Development Corporation.

Mt. Pisgah (a mixed use project, including a new church) at Church Avenue and Darrow Street had several opportunities in early stages along Emerson and the vacated Mayfair rail line,” Zalmezak said in his memo.

Based on that viewpoint, Dziekan told committee members “I would be comfortable and in support of funding this closer to 25%.”

Council Member, Jonathan Nieuwsma, 4th Ward, chairing the meeting, echoed the importance  of the business at that location.

Committee members agreed  on $560,000 as the level of assistance, with Dziekan casting the lone no vote.

Thomas’ request

Trish Thomas’ efforts to find a home for Whole & Free Foods goes back years, and includes previous appearances before the city.

Her request totaling $550,000 is a portion of the total project cost of $11.350 million, which includes $3 million in leasehold improvements to accommodate approximately $8 million in commercial kitchen equipment, Zalmezak said.

An Evanston resident, Thomas teaches entrepreneurship at Northwestern University to help startups.

Trish Thomas speaks before the Economic Development Committee during its Nov. 30 meeting. Credit: Bob Seidenberg

She’s found – whether it’s $25,000 or a half a million dollars — there are lots of people who will fund machinery, capital equipment, those kind of things,” she told Committee members.

“Eighty percent of the company are [Black] employees; over 47% of our production (team) has never held jobs,” she told Committee members. “We had every single person in our production team impacted by gun violence.”

She estimated that she looked at 50 properties before landing on Autobarn.Then one morning driving past the Nissan dealership on Chicago Avenue one morning, “it was like wait a minute, that’s for sale.” She ended up meeting talking with Richard Fisher, owner of the Autobarn.

“Anyone know Richard Fisher?” she asked Committee members about the owner of Autobarn. “He makes deals. That’s what he does.”

Chicago Avenue was out, but Fisher invited Thomas to look at the Autobarn location. “It’s not a perfect space,” said Thomas, lacking docks. “But it is  place to start. It gives an anchor for what we wanted to do.”

In Chicago, Whole & Free Foods production facility is 8,500 square feet, restricting production to one cookie sheet at a time.

At the new location, she said, “we’ll be able to do in one hour what it takes two weeks.”

EDC members voted 6-2 to recommend to the Council approval Whole & Free Foods request.

EDC members Eli Klein and Council Member Bobby Burns, 5th Ward, voted against, both speaking in support of the program but noting the uncertainty of American Recovery Plan Act monies.

‘I’m torn honestly,’’ said Klein, “because it’s a wonderful project. I think that I have every confidence that they’ll be successful; that it’s a good investment. But the fact that it’s ARPA funding, when we’ve already been talking about, “will we have enough left in February to implement any recommendations from the Evanston Thrives study (looking at upgrading the city’s retail districts. You know, it’s it’s, it’s a little worrying.”

Burns said he could support voting in support of “up to $550,000,” but not committing to the full figure.

“We have to know if there is more ARPA funds available after the 12th. We have a lot of priorities that we need to consider. And I would need the time to consider all those before we determine the final dollar amount.”

Council Member Reid, in whose ward the site is located, argued in support of the full amount.“I do think given the number of jobs, decent-paying jobs — particularly with the newer jobs that are gonna require a bit of training and education to operate this machinery. … I think this is certainly a worthwhile investment.”

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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