What Should Move into Evanston Plaza?

In this new series, Evanston Patch solicits your ideas for what to do with empty spaces around town.

The new owners of Evanston Plaza are eager to fill the mall's empty storefronts.

In this introductory piece in our new "Empty in Evanston" series, we ask you what you'd like to see go into the 25,000- and 35,000-square-foot spaces. The largest current tenant in the west side mall is .

Last month, the new owners, Bonnie Investment Group LLC, Evanston West Village Business Association, Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward) and City of Evanston employees . We are listing some of the ideas from that meeting in our poll below. Vote for your favorite and then elaborate on your answer in our comments section. We're hoping for a lively dialogue about what you want to see.


Evanston Plaza's previous tenants included Toys-R-Us, Frank’s Nursery, Pizza Hut, Fretters and Phar-Mor, but as some of these national chains went bankrupt and others reduced in size, business dried up. Since then, a number of large businesses have come and gone, including when the brand was consolidated.

The plaza’s most recent owner, Joseph Freed & Associates LLC, lost the property after it used the shopping center as cross-collateral to finance a failed downtown Chicago real estate project. It with .

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Cyndi Gage February 07, 2012 at 08:32 PM
A butcher. A great restaurant with sports bar section. Clothing boutiques. Picture framing store. Jewelry store. Dry cleaners. Shoe store. Michael's craft store. Make it a destination place where you can get most of your errands done in one stop.
Jim Puricelli February 07, 2012 at 08:35 PM
No way for Walmart. Yeah for a bowling alley with a pro shop. Trader Joe's needs to go in the old abandonded Osco on Oakton and Asbury.
Jessica Obien February 07, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Trader Joes!!! I'm tired of the hike to Glenview! The old Osco on Oakton and Asbury would be another good spot for TJ's!!
kathleen February 07, 2012 at 10:03 PM
I vote for a Trader Joe's, though I think Dominick's would veto that. I'd also like a bowling alley and skating rink with a family friendly restaurant with some outdoor seating/greenspace linking them in between. I've dreamt of doing that myself, but sadly, no cash!
Diane R. Johnson February 07, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Evanston Art Center
J February 07, 2012 at 11:13 PM
To those recommending Michaels or similar craft shop: The huge vacant corner store used to be a Michaels (or a similar clone). It also had a plant nursery. Went out of business. It's hard to endorse re-doing something that has already failed in that space. Best bet for survival is something that a large number of people would use for basic needs on a regular basis. Like groceries. (Sorry to keep beating the drum for Trader Joes, but.) NOT like a framing store--those places are always empty! And Evanston is overloaded with specialized little clothing boutiques and day spas. What Evanston lacks is someplace for average folks to buy the basics for home goods and everyday clothing--like a Sears, if Sears would get their act together, or maybe a nicer department store. Target is one such place, but something a bit nicer would be welcome if we could lure them to that location. Something like that would really anchor the shopping center and bring in traffic that would be mutually beneficial to the other shops. Starbucks stores, though they're already ubiquitous, also tend to anchor retail areas and bring in traffic. And believe me, with the Dance Center in that mall, a Starbucks would thrive.
lucas February 08, 2012 at 12:07 AM
J I think that spot was a Franks Nursery. The new owners probably need to think out of the box and create a different type of mall. Perhaps small shops resturants coffee shops and deli along with a couple of stores to draw people wanting to spend time relaxing and enjoy the warmness of Evaston either on a cool falll afternoon or hot summer day
Faith February 08, 2012 at 12:08 AM
I've lived in Evanston for 36 years and live near the plaza. I remember Phar-Mor, Frank's, Toy's R Us, discount books, and all the others. No more clothing stores. They don't draw enough people. A bowling alley would be great - kid's parties, fun for the whole family, date night, leagues. A sporting goods store might be a good option as well since going to Dick's or Sports Authority is a hassle. I can see a family friendly restaurant - like a Baker's Square - if you had a bowling alley there. I can see a Starbuck's doing well there, even though there is one on Main Street. I like Trader Joe's but I don't think that plaza is the right place for it. It's a little too pricey for the average person. The best thing about that plaza is that there is free parking. Whatever goes in there, it has to be a draw to a wide range of people. And for Pete's sake, let's not make it so difficult for businesses to want to do business here. Evanston is becoming a little too snobby for it's own good.
Bob Morrison February 08, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Would a JCPenney fit in?
jim February 08, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Bob Actually something out of the norm might be a good idea for that mall. Nothing else has helped it
lucas February 08, 2012 at 01:46 AM
What surprised me the most out of all the posts made with ideas. WAS THE NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO GIVE THE APPEARANCE OF NOT KNOWING THERE IS A TARGET IN EVANSTON.
lucas February 08, 2012 at 01:49 AM
Seems the current City Council likes vacant stores. We bought a number of stores on Howard and they were all vacant ( think this was to keep churches out)
J February 08, 2012 at 02:12 AM
Yes Bob, that mall has been the site of numerous failures. There is room for thinking out of the box. But it might not be necessary to do something radical, just sensible. The places that failed were typically grungy stores with mediocre quality merchandise. Let's not do that again. Lord knows Evanston has enough upscale boutique shops, & we don't want to outprice nearby residents (who tend to be more limited income). But it also doesn't help to perpetuate the image of that mall as a junky, low-budget destination as it has been for some time (except for the dance center & over-priced Paninos). CitiTrends, defunct AJ Wright, defunct discount bookstore that always had crummy selection, cases in point. Even the Dominick's there is unappealing compared to other Dominick's--poor selection in meat, produce & dairy, more emphasis on packaged food than fresh, produce prices often not labeled or ring up incorrectly... A Starbucks would help turn around the mall's image & draw customers. So would a Trader Joes (sorry to keep bringing it up). It's sort of along the lines of Whole Foods, but much more affordable. TJ's has appealing atmosphere that would improve the image of the mall, it would complement Dominick's & be a resource for local residents to buy quality food at affordable prices, & would also draw people from all over Evanston & nearby communities. Win-win-win, methinks. Sorry to be so vocal. I'm just so tired of Evanston repeating its mistakes & missing good opportunities!
lucas February 08, 2012 at 02:35 AM
Yup looks like Trader Joes is the favorite. Seems someone already mentioned that they have already rejected a couple sites. Only can guess if they looked at the mall already also. Hope we gave the new ideas some ideas for thought
Annie Harris February 08, 2012 at 04:09 AM
Yup, Trader Joe's would be nice! Please, please a Trader Joe's! How about a mom's cafe, you know, indoor playground meets starbucks. I've fantasized about opening a do-it-yourself dog wash place for a long time, this might be a good location for something like that (with retail pet products too).
J February 08, 2012 at 03:44 PM
@Annie: Whoa, Starbucks meets McDonald's-style indoor playground--that could lure a lot of parents. Esp. if they offered moderately priced, healthy, kid-friendly drink & snack options (like fruit cups that aren't outrageously overpriced). The multitude of families who patronize the mall's dance center could single-handedly support a place like that. Since the mall is big (and empty) enough to add multiple new ventures, what about also adding an Eddie Bauer store? The only one in striking distance is the EB Outlet at Harlem & Dempster, quite a hike. They get a lot of business, & the outlet is a good mix of EB quality w/outlet store affordability (wide market). Like the booming LL Bean in Skokie, these stores also get a lot of extra business b/c they provide a place for free shipping & returns on catalog orders (a big part of EB's business). EB has high quality clothing and outerwear for Men, Women & now Kids too--a versatile & affordable option (plus great sale promotions). As good & often better quality than LL Bean, & way better prices than North Face, both of which have thriving local stores. Stock up on groceries at TJ's, treat myself to a browse of what's on sale at Eddie Bauer, relax over a quick cup of coffee & chat w/fellow parents (while my toddler blows off steam on the indoor playground), and finish in time to pick up my other kid from dance class? Priceless.
J February 08, 2012 at 03:49 PM
Here's a timely reminder of what we should avoid: http://www.harrybliss.com/store/media/catalog/product/2/0/20120208cpbss-a.jpg
DeVincentis February 08, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Trader Joes will be vetoed by Dominicks; they don't understand the concept of synergy. I think the garden/craft store did very well. That was a corporate exit. Bowling alley would be fantastic for folks of all ages. How about a Costco; Sam's Club would freak out, but so what? The last thing we need is another not-for-profit in Evanston.
J February 08, 2012 at 10:22 PM
1) Agree that a bowling alley would be great, and would probably do well. 2) Re. Dominick's: Do they have any say over what else goes in the shopping center? One could argue that Costco would also compete with them, but Sam's and Food4Less seem to coexist in the same mall ok. As does the market on Oakton & Skokie Blvd. with the Aldi next door, and the Jewel on Chicago Ave. w/Whole Foods across the street. Maybe Dominick's could comprehend that.
el debarge February 08, 2012 at 10:32 PM
Simply put, this location simply does not have the demographics or the positive track history that would entice any of the desired retailers to risk an investment here. Without extreme concessions form the landlord and taxing bodies, these users will pass.There isn't a commercial broker out there that is not aware of this site and it is seen as a white elephant. A car dealer would have worked well here and generated the big sales tax numbers so desperately needed by the City but they have had no incentive to stay. They were shown the door just like light manufacturers were.
lucas February 08, 2012 at 11:34 PM
You can be quite certain that the new owners had a plan for the Mall in mind when they spent millions to purchase.
Becca Gay February 09, 2012 at 12:05 AM
I vote for Trader Joe's also. Here seems perfect, but if not here, SOMEWHERE in Evanston!
Emily Stone (Editor) February 09, 2012 at 01:35 AM
Thanks for all these great suggestions! We're going to contact the plaza owners to see if they'll weigh in on some of these ideas.
John C Thomson February 09, 2012 at 02:54 PM
I think most of the votes for Trader Joe's were by people who haven't even been in the neighborhood much less know it. Like addicts to Starbucks they just want what they want, know nothing about the demographics, the marketabillity of the location or the history. But you can bet anybody worth their salt in business does and knows. They're in business to make money first and if the ROI doesn't outweigh the risk. Well there you have it. Great comments el debarge.
J February 09, 2012 at 03:55 PM
@JThomson: Seems your goal is to tailor that mall solely to fit your view of the adjacent demographic. Would you want another dollar store, like the one that went out of business? There's a long track record of stores w/cruddy merchandise failing in that mall. The only way to break the cycle is to get better stores & draw people from a larger geographic area. Risky only if done poorly. Many people want a TJs--that's a sign it would succeed. I'd think local residents would be happy about that. Jobs, greater stability, higher property values. And are you so sure that breaking up Dominick's monopoly on that neighborhood w/an affordable grocery that offers healthy alternatives would not be desirable to local residents TOO? TJ's isn't an elitist store, it's moderately priced. Are you saying local folks don't want better access to healthy food? And Starbucks brings in traffic that can help anchor a shopping district, w/small storefonts that generate huge return, leaving plenty of space for other shops. Big picture, that huge mall can't survive if it caters exclusively to the adjacent neighborhood (or stereotypes). It's very conveniently located for people all around Evanston & nearby communities who might love to spend their money (& park their cars for free) if there were appealing places to shop. Drawing people from all over town & surrounding communities needs to be a priority for the mall to succeed, which ultimately benefits all Evanston, especially the adjacent neighborhood.
Nellie February 09, 2012 at 07:12 PM
I live within 3 blocks of said plaza and would jump for joy if a Trader Joe's would set up there. As would most of the people who live in this 'demographic' whom I know (of lots of shades of brown skin). Let's set the bar higher than it's been here in southwest Evanston! BTW, why does Dominicks get to decide what else goes into the plaza?
Emily Stone (Editor) February 16, 2012 at 03:18 PM
Evanston Plaza's owner has responded to many of these suggestions. Here's the story: http://patch.com/A-qSBx
lucas February 16, 2012 at 03:32 PM
Arlene FYI Target on Howard St.
Nancy February 28, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Piven Theater and/or Evanston Arts Center. It would be great to bring more arts to this part of Evanston. Plus great parking and easy pick up for parents and 8 blocks from S. Blvd. L.
SusieQ November 26, 2012 at 04:01 PM
Did plans to build a Trader Joe's on Chicago Ave. in the old Block Buster location go belly up? I thought that was still in the works...


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