City officials, residents lobby for new Viennese coffee shop in downtown Evanston

Sammy Caiola

A campaign by city officials and community groups to bring Viennese coffeehouse Julius Meinl to downtown Evanston has drawn skepticism from some local cafe owners and employees.

City officials and residents are pushing for the international franchise to fill the vacancy at 1700 Maple Ave., which housed a Borders bookstore until it closed in April 2011. The plan has garnered the support of members of Evanston’s Economic Development Committee, including division manager Nancy Radzevich, who spoke in favor of it in a city news release.

Arthur Hill & Co. LLC, the original developers of the space, are seeking Julius Meinl as a long-term tenant, said Bruce Reid, Arthur Hill & Co president. Developers have already presented a tour of the real estate to Julius Meinl associates, talked with them about layouts and discussed terms for the lease. Reid said he expects an answer from Julius Meinl in the next few weeks.

Emails to the Vienna-based company were not immediately returned.

Reid, who visited one of Julius Meinl’s three Chicago locations, said the coffeehouse would be a unique addition to downtown Evanston. It appeals to a wider audience and could draw customers leaving the movie theater, catching a train or waiting for an appointment with the Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group upstairs, he said.

“This is probably the best space available in the North Shore,” he said. “There’s a couple of corporate (coffee shops) here, but they’re just the same anywhere. Then you have those student-oriented places, which really aren’t welcoming to people who aren’t students.”

Meanwhile, Downtown Evanston, a nonprofit focused on local economic development, is on a mission to get Julius Meinl’s attention through social media. Its Facebook group, “Bring Julius Meinl to Downtown Evanston,” had 263 likes as of Wednesday afternoon and has garnered positive feedback from many residents.

However, at least one commenter said he believed Evanston does not need another coffee shop. There are currently 38 shops under the cafe category on the city’s Economic Development Division’s newly created local business directory.

Carolyn Dellutri, executive director of Downtown Evanston, said Julius Meinl will not create too much competition for other shops because of its location and will help to create a more active nightlife.

“It’s on a block (Maple) that doesn’t have any sort of coffee shops, so it will be a great addition to that area and add to the mix,” she said. “If people are coming to movies and parking and staying on that block, there are no options.”

Due to its location in “downtown proper,” Evanston resident Michael Doherty does not believe Julius Meinl would be a threat to The Brothers K Coffeehouse, 500 Main St., where he works as a barista. He does, however, worry about its effect on other independent shops, he said.

“As long as the cafe is able to integrate itself into the community and become sensitive to our needs and adjust accordingly, it’s a good thing,” he said. “But I’m skeptical of any increase in corporate chains in a small community.”

Some independent coffee shops, such as J.J. Java Cafe, are struggling to survive in the Evanston coffee scene, said owner Chinelo Oparaeche. She opened the cafe at 911 Foster St. in November and is barely breaking even, she said.

One of her biggest problems, she said, is visitors who stay for several hours to use the free WiFi but do not make any purchases. A few weeks ago, she put out signs asking customers to purchase one item during their stay. The sign also notes that the “bottomless coffee” lasts for only two hours. Even this request has not been entirely effective and the problem is recurring, Oparaeche said.

“I don’t want to chase them away, and I want them here,” she said. “But if you want the space to be open, you have to support. It’s not like a library where you can come without getting anything. It’s a business. I have to stay in business.”

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