High rents force restaurant closures, empty storefronts

Paul Thissen

Four storefronts in downtown Evanston are empty after severalrestaurants abandoned the space due to higher rents, but owners anddevelopers said business is still thriving.

Already property owners have seen a strong interest in thevacant spots for new businesses and said they will have no troublefinding potential tenants.

Baja Fresh, Corner Bakery Cafe, Chicago Style Carry Out andBombay Garden all closed over the summer, but both business andproperty owners said these vacancies are not representative of asystematic downturn.

Ilias Grigantas, owner of Chicago Style Carry Out, said heclosed his business because the rent went up. But he said businesshad not been declining during the seven years he had operated inthe space at 1633 Orrington Ave. For the independently-ownedbusiness, this is the end of the road — the restaurant is closedpermanently and will not re-open elsewhere.

“(The landlord) wanted too much money,” Grigantas said,explaining his business’ closure.

The space will be refurbished before it is leased out again,said Cameel Halim, the president of Wilmette Real Estate, whichowns the property. Although there are no definite plans for thespace, finding someone to lease that space will not be difficult,he said.

High rent prices also forced Baja Fresh to leave Evanston,according to Megan Philbin, the restaurant’s former manager whocurrently manages a Baja Fresh at 180 N. Michigan Ave.

Corporate representatives for Corner Bakery would not specifyany single reason for the Evanston store’s closing, only mentioningthat a number of business-related factors contributed to thedecision.

No plans have been announced yet for the former locations ofBaja Fresh and Corner Bakery at 901 and 950 Church Street,according to Bruce Reid, executive vice president of Arthur Hill& Co. LLC, the company that owns both properties.

“There is strong interest in both of those locations,” he said.”It is a good location. Even with these vacancies, we are wellbelow the normal vacancy rate.”

In similar areas of retail space, a vacancy rate between 6percent and 8 percent is normal, he said. His property is stillbelow that level.

“I think this is entirely within the normal kind of turnover fora retail center,” he said. “I don’t see it as an indicator of anybad omens for the future.”

Not all restaurants are moving out. In fact, Mount Everest at618 Church St. will be expanding its business soon by moving into alarger space at 632 Church St., owner Sunny Sharma said.

Another vacancy downtown, 1611 Sherman Ave., is expected to beoccupied by a Cold Stone Creamery by the end of November, saidColdstone public relations manager Anne Christensen. This spaceopened up when Hot Pink, a clothing retailer, closed inFebruary.

The Daily’s Scott Gordon contributed to this report.

Reach Paul Thissen at [email protected]