Small businesses may join Chamber

Breanne Gilpatrick

Shoppers could enjoy an “all-Evanston shopping day” or acomplete Evanston shopping guide if a Chamber of Commerce projectslated for discussion today becomes reality.

Representatives of four of Evanston’s small business groups willmeet today to discuss a possible merger with the Evanston Chamberof Commerce — a move that could link the city’s shopping districtsunder one banner.

Chamber of Commerce President Dick Peach said the plan has beenhis primary goal during his year-long term as president, which willend next week. Peach said he hopes to announce the project’sprogress at the chamber’s annual meeting Thursday.

“We wanted those organizations to be part of the Chamber ofCommerce,” Peach said. “Then the chamber does really represent allthe businesses of Evanston instead of just the 800 or so members ofthe chamber.”

The Chicago/Dempster Merchants Association, the Central StreetMerchants Association, the Southwest Evanston Merchants Associationand Old Town Evanston are a few of the organizations Peach hopeswill join the chamber.

Although specific details are still being discussed, Peach saidhe would like to include members of the small business associationson the chamber’s small business committee. He said he would alsolike to work on ways to market Evanston’s different shopping areasas one larger district, where shoppers could start downtown andhave transportation to different businesses throughout thecity.

One of Peach’s other goals is a shopping guide to all businessesin Evanston — not just those who are members of the chamber.

“You could pick it up and say, ‘OK, this is what we have in thecity,'” Peach said, “‘and this is how you get from A to B to C toD.'”

The maps and tours would be a major benefit for the CentralStreet Merchants Association, said Lois Combs, president of theassociation. Combs, who owns Lois & Company, a women’s clothingstore at 2014 Central St., said her group is excited about the ideaof having the Chamber of Commerce promote small businesses.

“For a long time the chamber has been focused on downtown and Iknow that has been necessary because of the changes being done downthere,” Combs said. “Now they are beginning to focus on smallbusiness associations and we’re really happy about that.”

Peach said he also wants the Evanston Small Business Associationto be involved in the project. He discussed the plan with TroyThiel, ESBA’s former president, before Thiel left the organizationlast summer. Being able to rely on the chamber’s administrativeservices would help grassroots organizations like ESBA survive,Peach said.

ESBA board member Jean Kroll, who owns Sugar & Spice SweetTreats, a cookie store at 829 Foster St., said the group stillwants to find out more about the project. But Kroll said she wantsto make sure ESBA doesn’t lose its grassroots focus by joining thechamber.

“We’re certainly happy to talk,” she said. “But we need theChamber to sell us and our members on why we should move back inthe fold.”

Tom Rath, director of membership, sales and marketing for theChamber of Commerce, said he agrees with the need to preserve thevoices of these different small business groups.

“We don’t want to be presumptuous,” said Rath, who has organizedmuch of the project. “We don’t want to alienate them. We don’t wantto be ‘Here we are. We’re coming in and taking over your merchantgroup.'”

But Peach said if ESBA doesn’t move soon enough, he will beforced to go ahead with the project anyway.

“We’re not going to wait for them,” Peach said. “The train pullsout soon.”