Howard Street business owners and residents express hopes for economic development grant


Zoey Soh/The Daily Northwestern

Howard Street borders Evanston and Rogers Park. Business owners and residents hope that the economic recovery grant would bring the two sides of Howard Street together.

Zoey Soh and Yidou Weng

Business owners and residents on Howard Street hope to see more street lights, flowers and increased Evanston-Chicago collaboration with the help of a new grant.

The Rogers Park Business Alliance and the city of Evanston plan to use a more than $99,000 economic recovery grant from the Research in Illinois to Spur Economic Recovery Program for a joint study on the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Howard Street.

The street acts as the border between Evanston and Rogers Park. The study will inform an action plan to revitalize the area and improve communities on both sides of the street.

Shyvonne Leslie, a business manager at Good To Go Jamaican Cuisine, said her business has still not returned to pre-pandemic customer levels.

She emphasized that beautification could help bring in more customers.

“I definitely want more street lights because it tends to get a bit dark around here,” Leslie said. “Of course you want it to be beautiful, so you want to do flowers and trees.”

Business owners and residents said they also hope that the partnership will bridge gaps between the two communities.

Although the street is only a geographic divide between Evanston and Rogers Park, Rogers Park resident Michèle Lamothe said it’s representative of other differences as well.

Lamothe owns a salon on Howard Street and said she hopes the grant will help unify business standards across Chicago and Evanston on Howard Street.

“There is a little bit of division,” she said. “I just think that you get two different experiences, and we’re right across the street from each other.”

Historically, Leslie said, Evanston and Chicago’s sides of Howard Street have operated independently. According to Block Club Chicago, this is the first economic effort that has focused on both sides of Howard Street, as opposed to just one or the other.

Leslie said business owners have tried to pull the two sides of the street together in the past, but they have been unsuccessful. She’s hopeful the partnership will bring beneficial collaboration.

“[Rogers Park and Evanston] could have a sister relationship.” she said. “You could advise your sister, ‘hey, if you need assistance with creating your website, this is a person that you could go to.’”

Badara Diakhate has been the owner of Badou Senegalese Cuisine in Rogers Park for 35 years.

Diakhate has seen how sharing resources could bring the two sides of the street together for the better. They said their Senegalese-Caribbean fusion food is a result of years of collaboration with the Caribbean restaurants across the street –– on the Evanston side.

After promoting their fusion food, Diakhate said they “started getting people from Evanston coming over here, daring to cross the street.”

Businesses remain hopeful the grant will aid in the revitalization and eventual cohesion of Howard Street. Diakhate said business owners are the ones living the reality and working on the frontier, and they hope to be consulted in the rollout process.

Diakhate said they envision a Howard Street that embodies community and is appreciated for its diversity.

“Hopefully, we’ll be a hub for ethnic restaurants,” Diakhate said. “And it’s in the making.”

The Rogers Park Business Alliance declined The Daily’s request for comment.

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Twitter: @zzoeysoh

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