Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Evanston hub for Black businesses set to open in December

Franceso Thorik-Saboia/The Daily Northwestern
The AUX, currently still in its construction phase, started in November and is managed by Black-owned UJAMAA Construction.

The AUX, a coalition of Evanston-based Black businesses, is set to open in December.

Short for auxiliary cord, The AUX offers “a place to plug in,” for businesses and community residents, according to AUX developer Lori Laser, who also founded The Growing Season, a mindfulness nonprofit and anchor tenant for The AUX. 

The 2nd Ward hub will focus on providing health and wellness services to Evanston residents, especially for the Black community, and is based on Sherman Phoenix Marketplace in Milwaukee. 

“Having the resources and capacities that I had was really a huge benefit to good health outcomes for my family members, and that inspired me to think about health and wellness and healing in a more holistic way,” Laser said.

Construction by Black-owned UJAMAA Construction started in November. The AUX boasts a community ownership model to address past restrictions on Black real estate ownership. 

“Anytime you’re doing something new and innovative you get pushback,” Laser said. “I think we’re in the mud. We’re in the dirt here. We’re in a community. You need to be in the community to know what the community needs.”

Fundraising has also posed a challenge, Laser said. The project costs $10 million, and organizers are still trying to raise $3.5 million. 

Laser said The AUX allows residents to invest between $1,000 and $50,000 and will transfer partial ownership to them once the project opens. So far, the hub has collected $225,000 in community equity, she added. The project also uses American Rescue Plan Act funds along with private funding.

“We were intentional on making it affordable at $1,000 a share,” co-developer and Evanston resident Jacqui White said. “We want people who actually live here, or maybe used to live here, and you just want a piece of The AUX to be able to say that you actually own a piece of commercial real estate.”

White and co-developer Tosha Wilson, of Evanston co-founded The Laundry Cafe, an anchor tenant in The AUX and a community initiative to create a spin-off on a traditional laundromat with better social experiences.

“Our hope for the business is that it becomes a staple for the community, a place where people can gather and take care of a needed, necessary chore, but in a place and a space where you feel welcome and safe,” White said.

Laser created The Growing Season concurrently with The AUX in 2020. The Growing Season is set to be part of the Wellness Collective, a group of tenants and entrepreneurs dedicated to health and wellness. 

“Our goal of the Wellness Collective is to allow practitioners who maybe don’t want their own brick and mortar yet to be able to rent space in here and offer their healing or craft,” Laser said.  

Developers said The AUX aims to increase the wealth of the entrepreneurs it hosts, creating a dedicated space as a launching pad for businesses. 

“Black business is good business,” said Tiffini Holmes, co-developer and co-founder of Well Beings Chicago, another anchor tenant. “And we wanted to be — as leaders of the project — as intentional as possible about empowering Black-owned businesses and women-owned businesses and giving them opportunities they’re qualified for but just oftentimes overlooked for.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @shreyasrin

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