Editorial: We’ll ‘Buy Evanston’ if leaders ‘Improve Evanston’

Walking the streets of downtown Evanston – or trying to find a parking place – one would think business is booming. There are fewer empty storefronts today than at any time in the past decade, with the retail vacancy rate down to 4.5 percent. But despite the crowded downtown, the city faces a projected $3.7 million budget shortfall, much of it attributed to sluggish sales tax revenue. Far from booming, business is bruised and battered.

Some city leaders have started to promote a “Buy Evanston” campaign to encourage residents to spend their dollars in the city. In response, we feel it necessary to start an “Improve Evanston” campaign to encourage city leaders and businesses to offer residents better products.

If people are shopping elsewhere, it is because they are buying better products or services for cheaper prices. They won’t buy inferior items at higher prices in the name of civic pride, especially if they are as cost-conscious as many of Evanston’s senior citizens and students.

Rather than simply calling on us to shop locally, city leaders should try to encourage student-friendly retailers to move downtown. With all the new development projects underway, the city has the opportunity to install businesses at which students will shop, spend and produce sales tax revenue.

Convenience is a strong pull — we stopped going to Old Orchard Shopping Center to see movies when Century Theatres moved to town — and students will shop in Evanston if local businesses offer quality products targeted at them for a reasonable price.

We’re willing to buy Evanston, but you’ve got to sell something first.