Evanston’s identity in state of flux

ike Platt

Strolling down Church Street one afternoon, I stopped for a moment to observe construction on the site of the old Osco Drug store. A sign overhead displayed the new stores that are being built. In addition to Barnes & Noble moving across the street, a Pier One Imports and Ann Taylor Loft soon will be opening up shop.

So basically, I need to trek a mile down Chicago Avenue to get reasonably price groceries, but if I need Bayberry candles and a rattan piece, I’m all set. Better yet, why don’t they throw in a Petco and a Build-A-Bear workshop and create the ultimate “College Student Blackhole” shopping center?

This construction serves as a microcosm for the fickle, transient nature of Evanston in my four years at Northwestern. Put simply, the city is in an increasingly transparent struggle to find its identity. Glimmers of it being an area geared toward the college age crowd are slowly being overshadowed by shops and businesses that seem out of place or unnecessary.

At one time, OfficeMax PDQ on Chicago Avenue offered better selection and prices for office supplies compared to the Norris Center Bookstore. But in 2004 it vanished with little fanfare. Its exit was eerily similar to that of Minkus’s disappearance from “Boy Meets World.” You didn’t notice at first, but after a while you realized something was missing.

Osco’s exit the next year was a little more public, but still had an impact. Yes, the place had a surreal David Lynch quality to it but still sufficiently filled the needs of NU students. Sadly, the same cannot be said for CVS. On top of the poor selection and robotic cashiers, the store leaves too many students stumbling onto Sherman muttering “Did I really just pay $6 for shampoo?”

Attempts to appeal to the college crowd continue to become more myopic. I like trendy coffee shops as much as the next caffeine-addicted undergrad. But let’s face it, we need another over-priced cafe like we need more student groups with the slogan, “We’re kind of a big deal.”

Don’t confuse my lament on the decreasing amount of college student oriented business as an argument that Evanston is obligated to kowtow to the needs of NU students. The lack of general coherence of Evanston’s commercialization makes it abundantly clear that developers function in the awkward position of appealing to both students and Evanston residents without appearing to favor one or the other.

To be fair, Evanston has got one thing right: food. Granted, the only requirements most college students have with their food is that it contains either cheese or MSG. But if you can’t find a decent meal in a two block radius in Evanston, you either lack a salivary gland or are a brainwashed disciple of Olive Garden commercials.

I’ll end with some words of advice to businesses looking to open up shop in Evanston: don’t be hip, don’t be trendy, don’t worry about “appealing” to a particular demographic and please, incorporate food.

Just no more Ann Taylor Lofts.

Mike Platt is a Weinberg senior. He can be reached at [email protected]