Downtown Evanston rebrands, aims to create a neighborhood feel


Saul Pink/The Daily Northwestern

The intersection of Davis Street and Sherman Avenue in downtown Evanston. The Downtown Evanston organization revealed a new tagline last week — “Your Town. Downtown.” — in an effort to make the city’s main business district feel more like a neighborhood.

Saul Pink, Reporter

Pre-pandemic, downtown Evanston served as a hub for office workers looking for lunch and running errands. With COVID-19 leading to plummeting office occupancy, Annie Coakley, Downtown Evanston’s executive director, isn’t sure what the future of Evanston’s main business district holds. 

“If (office workers) ever come back or go fully remote, I don’t know what that means,” Coakley said. “But that doesn’t mean we aren’t serving and trying to serve residents that live downtown.”

Downtown Evanston revealed branding materials on social media last week with a new tagline for the area: “Your Town. Downtown.” Coakley said the organization settled on the slogan to create a community feel because many residents and business owners said they felt  downtown isn’t an authentic Evanston neighborhood like the West End or the Main-Dempster Mile. 

According to Coakley, developments like the Northlight Theatre, which is slated to open in fall 2024, and the AMC movie theater opening at 1715 Maple Ave. are some of the first steps to bringing the new tagline to life. 

“We want people to feel that downtown is just another neighborhood where they could come and hang out,” Coakley said. “And we want to create a more homey feel.”

Jim Nash, the managing broker of property management firm Farnsworth-Hill, which manages multiple downtown properties, said vacant storefronts have made it difficult to attract new businesses.

For Nash,  the April closing of CloseKnit Yarn Store at 1630 Orrington Ave. is an example of a vacant storefront that has yet to attract a new tenant.

“It affects the buildings we manage in a negative way because it looks as though the businesses there were not doing well,” Nash said. “It’s harder to attract other tenants when they see multiple vacancies.”

Nash said he still primarily looks for retail businesses to rent his properties because the downtown area continues to see traffic from Evanston residents and Northwestern students. 

Commonwealth Running Company, a store that sells running gear, opened at one of Nash’s properties on Sherman Avenue in February 2020  — just weeks before COVID-19 caused the store to temporarily shut down. Owner Matt Abtibol said while business at his store has been slow, Evanston’s downtown is “improvable.” 

“I think you need something that draws people in,” Abitbol said. “If you put things here that draw people in, you can build it back up and you could turn it around pretty quickly.”

Coakley is unsure what downtown’s new customer base will look like, and her organization and the city government are working together to plan for the neighborhood’s future.

Coakley’s organization Downtown Evanston is part of Special Service Area #9, which encompasses downtown Evanston. Commercial property owners in Special Service Areas pay an annual tax to fund projects in the area’s boundaries. For example, Downtown Evanston funds daily garbage pickup, which the city only provides once a week.

City Council approved a $245,000 contract with consulting firm Interface Studio on May 9 to develop a Business District Improvement Strategy and Implementation Plan for each of Evanston’s 10 business districts to plan for how they will revive from the pandemic.

Abitbol said he agrees with Downtown Evanston’s new tagline. He hopes Evanston residents will choose to shop at local downtown businesses instead of online or at big-name retailers. 

“The people that run these shops are your neighbors — people that live in your community,” Abitbol said. “I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to support them over shareholders who aren’t doing anything for you.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @saullpink

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