Evanston Gift Card creates new way to support small businesses


Illustration by Shveta Shah

The Evanston Gift Card can currently be used at 67 participating locations.

Virginia Hunt, Reporter

Bipul Sharma, manager of Mt. Everest in downtown Evanston, has been looking for ways to advertise to Northwestern students for years.

“I used to have a couple of students … who worked here for summer jobs and everything. I used to ask, ‘You guys, what is the best way to promote (to) Northwestern?’’’ Sharma said.

Sharma said the new Evanston Gift Card could be the program that allows him to do so.

The Evanston Gift Card, created by the company Yiftee, is a digital gift card that can be used in restaurants and shops across the city, Yiftee CEO Donna Novitsky said.

Laura Brown, business development and marketing manager for the Downtown Evanston business district, said the city used to have a physical gift card service. But it did not work well, she said, because of funding issues and increased staff workload. That prompted Brown and her colleagues to reach out to Yiftee, which started creating community-specific gift cards in 2012.  

Downtown Evanston began its partnership with Yiftee in 2021. Currently, the gift card can be used in 67 stores.

Novistky said localized gift cards help small businesses by capitalizing on the growing gift card market, which tends to only benefit larger businesses. 

“Today, all of (the gift card) business is going to national brands and online e-commerce. But when you aggregate all the small businesses into a town, like the Evanston card, it becomes a really popular purchase for schools and hospitals and employers,” Novitzky said. 

Novitsky said she hopes to encourage shopping at local businesses, especially to local college students. 

Novitsky gifted her niece Anna Garverick (McCormick M.S.R. ’23) a gift card when she was studying at Northwestern. Garverick had only been in Evanston for a quarter when she received the card, and she remembers using it to search for a new coffee spot or bookstore. 

“It was literally just like a directory of new places for me to try,” said Garverick. “I would definitely think about giving a similar gift to anyone else who’s in the area or another student.”

Sharma said the revolving door of students in Evanston can make it hard to build lasting relationships between customers and stores. However, he said, he’s recently noticed an increase in card usage. 

Through marketing to students and participating in events like Wildcat Welcome at NU, Brown hopes the Evanston Gift Card will encourage students to explore local businesses.

Both Novitsky and Brown said they hope the Evanston Gift Card will continue expanding its customer base and eligible businesses. Brown said she welcomes Evanston businesses to contact her to be a part of the program. 

“It’s just word of mouth and things like the gift card things and other promotions that (are) helping us,” Sharma said.

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