Business organization aims to continue improvements to Dempster, Dodge area

Rachel Yang, Reporter

After a brief period of inactivity, an Evanston association is planning to revamp the area around Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue by bringing in new businesses before the new year.

Nancy Floy, president of the Evanston West Village Business Association, described her vision for the future of the area around the intersection as “funky” yet attractive to kids.

“We’re looking for this to be family-friendly, but also a community of art, healing, fun,” said Floy, who is also owner of the Heartwood Center, located near the intersection at 1818 Dempster St., which is dedicated to healing activities.

The intersection, in the center of Evanston’s West Village neighborhood, continues to serve both the family and artistic crowds as new businesses are introduced to the area, Floy said.

Some of the present businesses geared toward families include the Team Evanston youth soccer club, the Valli Produce market that is set to open summer 2015 and the Goldfish Swim School that was approved in September to start construction.

The intersection also has a Starbucks, which opened in September. A second storefront of Curt’s Cafe, a nonprofit restaurant that provides job training for at-risk young adults, may also open at the intersection.

Floy said she has planned three jazz concerts in various locations near the intersection to attract residents to the area. She said she would like to host a concert in the future in association with Valli Produce.

Despite the influx of “hip” new businesses, the association does not plan on gentrifying the area, Floy said,

“The people who live here, a lot of working class people, can stay living here,” Floy said.

As an example of her efforts to keep people in the area, Floy mentioned the training program for at-risk mothers that will available through the new Curt’s Cafe South. After teenagers graduate from the restaurant’s training, Floy said her business association will help them find jobs in the area of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue, where they will be able to continue living.

Collaboration among the association and city officials was a big emphasis for Floy, who said the process of aggregating the businesses and hosting monthly meetings has not been difficult at all.

“We all really love each other and support each other,” Floy said.

She said she even turned to local Jamaican restaurant Kingston Grill to cater an event she is hosting this upcoming weekend.

Meagan Jones, the city’s economic development coordinator, said the association has shown its collaborative spirit by bringing in an array of businesses.

However, Floy admitted there were challenges in implementing community initiatives for the area.

“The biggest obstacle was the perception of our neighborhood being unsafe,” Floy said.

But she said she believes these ideas are unfounded. Floy said she has no qualms about leaving Heartwood at night after work and walking back to her home, which is located in the Dodge Avenue corridor.

Although Jones acknowledged that public perception is still an issue, she believes the West Village area will flourish “a lot sooner than some might think.”

Evanston police Cmdr. Jay Parrott agreed with Floy’s statement, saying that crime in the West Village area was only a concern around 10 years ago.

Parrott also said the area became safer after Dominick’s closed in December 2013, as there were many narcotics incidents reported at the eatery.

“Lately we have not had calls for that area,” Parrott said. “I think it has (gotten better) and I think it will continue to get better.”

In response to the people who still may have doubts about the safety and vibrancy of the West Village neighborhood, Floy said she encourages them to come and see what it’s actually like.

“There’s so much happening in our neighborhood,” Floy said. “I live here and I work here. And this is my neighborhood. And it’s an incredible community.”

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