Officials consider legacy program to help retain longstanding Evanston businesses

Evanston officials moved forward this week on a proposal that would recognize the special character of longstanding businesses by creating a program to ensure they can remain in the city.

Members of the city’s Economic Development Committee strongly backed the city staff’s proposed Legacy Business Program at the committee’s Tuesday, May 31, meeting.

Economic development officials have long stressed the importance of retaining existing businesses as an important if sometimes overlooked element of the city’s economic development strategy.

Hecky’s Barbecue, an Evanston institution since 1983, was one of the longtime businesses named by Council Member Clare Kelly, 1st Ward, at the Economic Development Committee meeting. Credit: Evanston Chamber of Commerce

“Preserving our small businesses is critical to maintaining Evanston’s unique character and cultural identity. In addition to contributing to Evanston’s business district’s vitality, they provide employment opportunities and help create a sense of place for local residents,” wrote city Economic Development Specialist Katheryn Boden in a May 25 memo to the committee.

“So much attention is focused on new business openings and attracting new businesses to fill vacant spaces,” she wrote, “we often fail to direct attention to the businesses that have spent a great deal of time and financial resources to remain relevant in an increasingly competitive retail environment, particularly in the wake of the pandemic and growth of e-commerce.”

Programs established by other cities include grants, technical assistance and other marketing and branding services, she said.

San Francisco’s Legacy Preservation Fund, the first of its kind, she wrote, offers annual grants to the businesses which make up its registry (up to 300 of them) of $500 per employee, as well as issuing a $4.50 per square foot grant to property owners who extend 10-year leases to tenants.

Grants can increase to $50,000 per business and $22,500 for property owners, according to the staff memo. Since its inception, the program has helped more than 230 businesses and nonprofits, Boden said in the memo.