Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Small businessman, big ideas

Troy Thiel has his own definition of the word “network.” To him, it’s something organic and personal. Thiel, the president of the Evanston Small Business Association (ESBA), even uses the word when describing his childhood — he “networked” with kids in school, he said.

Even the guy in the ski cap who stops on his bike on a recent afternoon outside Unicorn Cafe, 1723 Sherman Ave., is part of Thiel’s panorama. While discussing ideas for bringing Northwestern students into Evanston businesses, he breaks off.

“I’m watching these people tie their bikes to trees and parking meters,” Thiel said. “We need more bike racks in business districts. … I’ve always thought that when Northwestern buys a big bunch of bike racks for campus, they should donate a big bunch to the city. It would help students who are always having their bikes stolen off of trees.”

But Thiel’s concerns go beyond bike safety. The 37-year-old, has a few opinions about the relationship between Evanston and NU. He’s lived near major universities all his life and said the town and NU have the energy to overcome their differences. He has tried to use ESBA as a vehicle to find ways for them to, well, network.

Thiel grew up in Normal, Ill., where his dad was the general manager of the Illinois State University student newspaper. Growing up there taught him to appreciate diversity, Thiel said.

“University communities seem to have more of a diverse demography — people from all over the country and all over the world,” he said.

He added that even as a child he was aware of the energy of campus life. “I was five when I witnessed my first streaking,” he said.

Thiel ended up studying at Illinois State, where he majored in political science and economics. After graduating, he worked in the insurance business and lived near Washington University in St. Louis.

“I could live out in the middle of nowhere, where everybody drives their car into the garage at night and closes the door,” he said. “Or I could live near the university and take advantage of the business districts … and the events.”

Thiel first came to Evanston when Norris University Center hired him as facilities and events manager. He had planned to get his doctorate at NU, but decided to go into real estate. Now, he said, his job is to sell Evanston.

Jean Kroll, who serves on the ESBA board, said Thiel understands that what’s good for the community is good for local business.

“It’s a great circle,” Kroll said. “The more you give, the more you get back. I think Troy advocates and participates in that.”

When Thiel first arrived in Evanston, he was surprised at the contempt some citizens felt for NU. To overcome that, he said, the city and NU cannot let the university’s property tax status dominate their relationship.

“This political argument has been debated for 100-plus years,” he said. “The lines have been drawn and fought the same way for so long.”

In Normal, the university and city had a far more symbiotic relationship, Thiel said.

“The critical issues were parties,” he said. “The community and campus had been moving forward together for so long that people couldn’t see it any other way.”

Thiel has plans for NU and Evanston to move forward together too, and one way he works toward that goal is by meeting with Associated Student Government to discuss partnerships between NU and the city’s businesses.

Among this year’s goals were expanding the WildCARD discount program at area businesses and improving “Wild About Evanston” Weekend — a Fall Quarter event that offered free food from restaurants for NU students.

Ben Cherry, the external relations chair for ASG, said he has met with Thiel about half a dozen times to discuss the WildCARD program and New Student Week activities. He praised Thiel’s approach to bridging the gap in town-gown relations.

“He really seems to have everyone’s best interest in mind when he comes to the table,” Cherry said.

There are many other ways Evanston and NU could network, Thiel said.

For instance, the university could use its stadium and office space to bring in more events, and it could offer its grant-writing program to help the city obtain new funds, he said. Also, NU’s Traffic Institute and the Transportation Center could use Evanston as a laboratory.

“The city could benefit in finite, actual, income-level ways, and the university would be an improved part of the community, a partner in the community,” Thiel said.

He also suggested that students provide more input on the kinds of businesses they think Evanston is missing — like a bowling alley.

“I keep coming back to the bowling alley,” Thiel said. “I’m going to run on the bowling alley ticket for mayor.”

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Small businessman, big ideas