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Legacy Business Program to help long-time enterprises survive and succeed

Council members, city staff and local business owners are collaborating on a program to ensure long-standing Evanston businesses and nonprofits can remain community fixtures well into the future.

The new Legacy Business Program, still early in its development, will provide direct support to Evanston-based businesses and nonprofit organizations that have operated for at least 20 years.

Bennison’s Bakeries is an example of a legacy business. Credit: Submitted

The program is being developed by a working group led by Council member Clare Kelly (1st Ward) and including Council member Melissa Wynne (3rd Ward), Carl Klein and Suzi Reinhold from the Preservation Commission, Economic Development Manager Paul Zalmazek and city planner Cade Sterling.

Its purpose statement explains that legacy businesses are defining features of Evanston and its neighborhoods, and that losing them would be harmful to both the city’s heritage and its economic vitality. It reads:

Evanston’s heritage resources are vitally important, bind its residents to their physical environment, and define the City’s unique character and identity. However, Evanston’s living heritage remains largely underrepresented and vulnerable from threats such as improper alterations, increasing rent structures, changes in the market economy, and corresponding development pressures.

Businesses wanting legacy recognition will nominate themselves to the city, and once approved will be placed on an online registry and receive a plaque for its location. City staff are creating a Request for Proposal for artists and web designers to create the plaque design and website, and tentatively plan to issue it on Sept. 22.

Hecky’s Barbecue, an Evanston institution since 1983, was one of the longtime businesses named by Council Member Clare Kelly, First Ward, as a legacy business. Credit: Evanston Chamber of Commerce

The program will also offer grants and assistance to organizations to stay open and successful. Proposed areas of support include physical restoration and repair of distinctive features, assistance with marketing and strategic planning, and rent stabilization and lease renegotiation support between businesses and landlords.

Sterling said negotiating long-term leases will be especially important.

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