Evanston businesses brace for cold winter weather

Chris Kirk

Now that the first flurries of snow have settled, local business owners and managers are bracing themselves for the frigid winds that will keep potential customers huddling near a hearth instead of strolling down a shopping aisle – and the economy has no coat to offer.

“We are completely a victim of weather,” said Denise Sieja, who owns Trattoria Demi, 1571 Sherman Ave. “We’ve been here almost 15 years, but every year it’s a struggle through winter.”

Sieja said the independently owned Evanston restaurant is especially hard-hit by the decreased foot traffic due to colder temperatures.

Last year, she said, it was particularly bad. Now Trattoria Demi offers a delivery service to appeal to customers who would rather order out than bear the brunt of the cold. She already knows, though, that the delivery service will not be enough. Sacrifices must be made, she said.

“We unfortunately already have had to lay off one person,” she said. “But usually it’s just a cutback of hours, which affects the staff, because they have families.”

According to Sieja, that is no small sacrifice.

“We don’t like to lay (off) or cut hours, but, as I always tell them, ‘We have to pay you, and we can’t pay you if we don’t have customers,’ so it’s like a Catch-22,” she said.

Cold Stone Creamery, 1611 Sherman Ave., will compensate similarly. During the winter, the store puts workers on seasonal leave, offering their jobs back in the spring, said Deonta Rowland, a shifts leader and student at Evanston Township High School. It also provides new flavors and reinforces advertising.

“We used to have five people working a night, six people working a night,” he said. “Now we have two.”

The state of the national economy, Rowland predicts, will force the store to make even more cuts.

“I believe it’s a very serious situation,” he said. “It’s going to be very difficult for us.”

The scene is not so gloomy, however, for venues that can capitalize on winter.

“Sometimes we can’t wait for the winter to come,” said Gail Jones, co-owner of Saville Flowers, 1712 Sherman Ave. According to Jones, Saville Flowers’ big months are in winter – and not only because of the holidays. Jones said that people focus more on decorating their homes in the winter because they are more sedentary, and they do so with houseplants.

Sieja, however, remembers the days when customers would flock to her restaurant for the food and outdoor seating. She knows that the national economic downturn will only make this winter more gruesome.

“I’m hopeful,” she said, “but not optimistic.”

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