Local businesses rely less on census findings than expected

Grace Johnson and Grace Johnson

As Evanston businesses prepare to reward students and Evanston citizens for participating in the census, some in the business community say census data aids local retailers in limited ways.

During Community Savings Weekend, April 9-11, several Evanston businesses will offer discounts to thank citizens for their participation. However, census results do not help businesses as much as more frequently released economic data, said Jonathan Perman, executive director of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce.

“Census data has some positive benefits, but the intervals between the collection are quite large,” Perman said. “It’s important not to overstate the importance of census data for business development.”

Market data available weekly from Illinois’ Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, such as interest rates, export and import data and price indexes, are more helpful to businesses, Perman said.

Still, census data can help the business environment in Evanston, said Carolyn Dellutri, executive director of Downtown Evanston. The group, which is organizing the Savings Weekend, is a marketing and management services organization for businesses in the downtown area.

“When census data comes out, it can help incoming businesses decide to come to Evanston from an economic standpoint,” Dellutri said. “It can help current businesses with marketing initiatives because they can learn more about their customers.

Aside from thanking students for contributing census data that could help businesses forecast the economic climate, Downtown Evanston designed the Savings Weekend to draw more business to Evanston, Dellutri said.

Affordable Portables, a furniture store at 924 Davis St., is participating in the weekend even though census data doesn’t factor highly into the store’s business practices, said Charles Levine, a sales associate at the store.

“We rarely look at statistics for our business practices,” he said. “We base our practices on everyday interactions with customers.”

Levine hopes the census results will show the Evanston population has grown to more than 75,000 people so the business environment in Evanston becomes more urban.WineStyles, 1741 Sherman Ave., also plans to participate in the weekend, owner Maggie Noonan said.

“We are throwing a discount event as part of the week, but we don’t plan on looking at the census info,” Noonan said.

The Evanston Chamber of Commerce uses various statistics and data in its consulting services to Evanston businesses, Perman said. While the census provides part of the information used, he said it is not the primary source of data.

One data collection method Perman finds more helpful is the monthly reports the Chamber produces, comparing retail statistics in Evanston to nine other communities.

Still, some demographic information in the census could aid Evanston businesses as they learn more about their customer base, Perman said.

“Among the things I would expect to see are more seniors and more households with less people in each household, building on the idea of smaller families,” he said.[email protected]