Evanston small businesses collaborate in wake of closings

Sammy Caiola, Reporter

With the holidays approaching, the spotlight has shifted to Evanston’s newest small businesses, which will either sail smoothly into the new year or sink like other shops before them. In an effort to survive, some business owners are collaborating with one another to increase revenue and expand their customer bases.

January 2012 brought the closure of several Evanston small businesses, including Tiny Dog Cupcake, 616 Davis St., and Merle’s BBQ, 1727 Benson Ave. However, the same month also ushered in the opening of Pret A Manger, 1701 Sherman Ave., and Soulwich, 1634 Orrington Ave.

Now, the open-close trend may be repeating itself with the impending closure of Ten27 Cycles (formerly Turin Bicycle), 1027 Davis St., which has been in Evanston for more than 40 years. Owner Chris Mailing said the poor economy, in conjunction with a problematic name change, made closure necessary.

“It was going to end up in some kind of a lawsuit, and I don’t have the money given my current economic environment,” he said of the attempted name change. “The better solution was just to close up shop and be done with it. It’s a difficult decision, but it’s the right way to wrap things up.”

A new bike shop called Wheel & Sprocket will soon replace Ten27 Cycles.

There are also several new restaurants, including JT’s Bar and Grill, 1639 Orrington Ave., and Found Kitchen, 1631 Chicago Ave.

In a community as locally focused as Evanston, new businesses can turn to both city officials and neighboring businesses for early troubleshooting.

In March 2009, Bloomberg Businessweek magazine named Evanston the best city in Illinois for startups. Now, small businesses work together to mutually benefit the area, said Steve Griffin, the city’s director of community and economic development.

“I’ve been very impressed since I’ve been here, seeing how they meet as a group and in individual groups and work on common issues and problems,” Griffin said. “It’s not like what you’d think might happen — they’re not pitted against each other. They’re collaborating.”

Collaboration comes in several forms, ranging from group meetings to online networking to joint events, Griffin said. There are eight different Evanston business associations, such as the Central Street Business Association and Downtown Evanston, that meet monthly with the city to discuss maintenance and care of their business locations, he said.

The Central Street merchants also band together to throw mutually beneficial events, such as the Central Street Holiday Open House coming up Sunday. The event, which takes place from noon to 5 p.m., allows individual stores to gain publicity by offering discounts to passers-by, said Patty Erd, co-owner of The Spice House, 1941 Central St. Erd said she has participated in many similar events during her 15 years as an Evanston small-business owner.

However, making a new business well-known in the tight-knit local scene is not always easy, Erd said. She and her husband could not afford advertising at first, so they spread their name through word of mouth and by putting their pamphlets and products in the windows of other stores.

“If you don’t have the money in the account to cover the first year’s rent, you absolutely should not do it,” Erd said. “We’ve been on a shoestring budget much of our life. … You just have to sit out the time, so people get to know you’re there.”

After becoming established, Erd said she found Evanston to be a wonderful community for a young small business.

Lynette Martin, who started Bottle and Bottega Evanston in August, said she found the Evanston Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Evanston organization to be helpful in her launch process.

Bottle and Bottega Evanston, a mobile business that grew out of the original Chicago Bottle and Bottega launched in 2009, provides art supplies and professional artists for paint parties around the city, Lynette said. Any Evanston business can host a Bottle and Bottega party, during which a team of artists will provide a three- to four-hour paint lesson to guests while they eat, drink and socialize.

So far, Lynette said she has worked with WineStyles, Koi and Creative Coworking.

“My business is all about partnering with other small business in the community to see how we can joint-market,” she said. “All of these organizations also benefit from me throwing the parties there. I’m bringing in clients who may not otherwise know about them. … This is truly a partnership that I create with different businesses.”