Alliance discusses plans to help local small businesses thrive

Breanne Gilpatrick

Members of three Evanston merchant associations met Tuesday morning with the small business committee of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce to discuss details of creating a more united small business community.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first event to officially pull together the Central Street Merchants Association, the Dempster/Dodge Merchants Association and Old Town Evanston with the chamber’s small business committee, said Dick Peach, former president of the chamber. The groups had met previously with the chamber on April 23 to finalize plans for the alliance.

Representatives from the City of Evanston and EVMark — a local business advocacy group — also attended the meeting, held at The Italian Coffee Bar, 1549 Sherman Ave. Peach said he’d like to have a similar meeting about twice a month, with each meeting in a different shopping district.

Getting the small business associations more involved with the chamber was Peach’s mission as chamber president, and he said he is glad business owners are starting to see how the project is going to work.

“It’s just a process of getting things together and making things happen,” Peach said. “At least now everyone is sitting down and talking.”

Peach said the group has begun to work out details for an all-Evanston shopping guide and a Christmas shopping program for the week before Thanksgiving that would include running a shuttle between the city’s different shopping areas. He also said the group is working on more cross-promotion and transportation between merchant group events and city festivals.

“The vision was kind of one that was up in the clouds,” he said. “This is a lot more reality.”

But one of the first steps toward the new union is creating an official contact list for the different business owners, said Tom Rath, the chamber’s director of membership, sales and marketing.

“That way if something is going on on Central Street they can e-mail the whole group so, for example, Main Street can know what’s going on,” Rath said.

Donna Stuckert, Evanston’s community information coordinator, attended the meeting and said the city has set up an online discussion group to encourage the different groups to talk.

“It’s slow,” Stuckert said. “But I think once the districts are aware of what’s going on and have some constant contacts within the different businesses and the different business groups, there will be a more established agenda.”

Kate Coil, a board member for the Chicago/Dempster Merchants Association said she could not attend the meeting because of family issues Tuesday morning, but she said past chamber meetings have made great progress.

“I’m always really positive when I talk to people,” said Coil, who owns Possibilities, a gift shop at 1235 Chicago Ave. “If we get people involved, that will be the first step to getting things done.”

Although Peach said the chamber has made progress, he said they still need to make sure that the business associations don’t view the chamber as the enemy.

“We’re trying to be very careful how we word things so they don’t think we’re taking over,” he said. “I’ve got enough problems. I don’t need to be taking over anybody.”