Backlot Coffee to close coffee service at Sherman Ave. location, open plant shop in its place

A circle logo. The bottom says “Plant Shop Evanston.” Above it is two plants and an orange dot, resembling a sun.

Photo courtesy of Plant Shop Evanston

The Plant Shop Evanston logo. Backlot Coffee will close its coffee services at its Sherman Avenue location Sunday, and fill the space with a community plant shop.

Delaney Nelson, City Editor

From beans to greens, Backlot Coffee is transforming. The cafe will end its coffee service at its Sherman Ave. location this Sunday and transition the space into a plant shop, the business announced Monday.

Owners John Kim and Isaac Bloom said they made the decision to “close (their) doors and reimagine what kind of business would thrive on this beautiful corner” after the announcement that Dollop Coffee Company would be opening across the street.

“Once we realized Dollop was coming, we both thought to ourselves, what can we do different other than coffee that serves the community, and creates beauty in downtown Evanston?” Kim said. “Rather than battling for the same business, our idea was how can we take this beautiful corner that we have and make it into something that adds value to the community.”

The pair is partnering with Plant Shop Chicago to run Plant Shop Evanston, a community plant shop specializing in houseplants, succulents and cacti. The shop will also sell handmade ceramics by local artisans and curated antique products from Swantiques, as well as Backlot coffee beans and merchandise, Bloom said.

Kim and Bloom’s vision is to create a community-centered shop and to maintain the warm, welcoming atmosphere of Backlot coffee stores. Swantiques Owner Lora Swanson hopes to sell vintage planters, pottery, mirrors and art, she said.

Bloom said Plant Shop Chicago approaches their houseplant businesses in the same way Backlot does coffee — with “kindness at the heart of the business model” and community in mind.

“It just made sense to kind of come together and build out this new, beautiful space together as one new entity,” Bloom said. “We wanted to create a warm, welcoming space where we can continue to have conversations with the people that we know and love in the community, and just switch the focus to plants from coffee.”

Kim and Bloom co-founded Backlot in 2016. They expanded the store in 2019, opening a third location on Sherman Avenue in October 2019 after the closure of Other Brother Coffee Bar. Its two other locations at Central Street in Evanston and Avondale Avenue in Chicago are still open for coffee service.

The Sherman Avenue Backlot reopened in June 2020 after being closed due to the pandemic, Kim said. The owners plan to open the plant shop by the end of June.

Gabrielle J. Walker, owner of 4 Suns Fresh Juice, said she plans on buying plants from Plant Shop Evanston to hang in her own store.

While she’s sad to hear the coffee shop will be closing, Walker said she was happy to hear they are transitioning their business rather than leaving — especially because downtown is becoming “somewhat of a ghost town,” she said.

“It just made me happy to know that their presence would still be there, that this shop wasn’t just going to be a place for rent and an unknown entity of what’s to come, but to know that there’s going to be some life in there, quite literally, by them selling plants,” Walker said. “I’m all for a different idea, just, let’s try our best to revitalize downtown Evanston.”

Annie Coakley, executive director of Downtown Evanston, said she’s seen many businesses have to pivot and get creative throughout the pandemic. She said while she loves Backlot Coffee, she’s excited for the new plant shop.

Coakley said the corner on which Backlot’s Sherman Avenue location sits has many food shops, but could use more retail — something Plant Shop Evanston will provide. She expects the new apartment building across the street will attract business, as will the current trendiness of owning plants.

“During the pandemic, if you didn’t get a pet, you got a plant,” Coakley said. “It’s a trending hobby — plant babies are real. This is such a great idea and I think people are really going to gravitate towards it.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @delaneygnelson

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