After eight and a half years in its iconic location down a humble alley in downtown Evanston, Bookends & Beginnings bookstore must relocate. This summer, a new landlord more than doubled our rent, making our old home unaffordable for us. We tried for months to negotiate a lower rate, to no avail. We need to be out of our current space by the end of January 2023. We were not expecting to be in this situation and have no reserve funds that we can use to pay our projected costs for moving and building out the new space. And time is of the essence: The work must begin NOW in order for us to be ready to move in January.
As you may be aware, we appealed to the City of Evanston for help, hopeful that we would be eligible for a grant from the $43 million in American Rescue Plan funding that is supposed to help small businesses and municipalities recover from the economic ravages of the COVID pandemic. The City declared us ineligible for those funds. The Economic Development Committee did recommend allocating us $83K from other sources, but this allocation will have to be approved by the City Council at its meeting on December 12. And it represents only 18 - 20% of our total project costs.
Because we only have about six weeks to make this move and have to initiate work in the new space ASAP, we need funding now.
Click on the links here to read great articles on the situation:
The Background: For all these years, we have made the best of being a "speakeasy for books," hidden away down a gritty alley in an old garage with bad heat, no plumbing and no visibility--but with loads of character. When people found us, or the antiquarian bookstore called Bookman's Alley that had been the space before us for 40 years, they felt they had discovered a treasure, a magical shop, a "hidden gem" of Evanston. The space was cheap, and though it was run-down, we and our predecessor managed to make it cozy and fill it with life.
After a new landlord raised our rent 125% this summer, we tried everything we could think of to find a way to stay. It didn't work. Then we were lucky to discover another space that has many of the features we've done without for all these years: it's on a major downtown street at 1620 Orrington Avenue where people will see us, with big front windows for displays, wide sidewalks we can activate with our used book carts, several bathrooms (!), and gorgeous, high-ceilinged, well-lit display space on two levels. It's more space than we have now, for a lower rent.
Our challenge: The move itself will be expensive. We are moving 40,000 books! And what we will lose is a charming, inviting, eccentric, memorable physical space, which people delighted in discovering. The dingy alley was part of its charm, and if the store itself was rather shabby-looking, it was all part of a package. We wanted you to feel you were in someone's rambling old house.
Our new space is a giant vanilla box. It's historic, but the kind of charm and magic that are such an integral part of our identity are going to need to be created from scratch. We already have a plan to combine new and used fixtures, color and art, and salvaged lighting and furniture to create a distinctive space that you'll love visiting as much as you did our old space.
We see this as an opportunity to build something more appropriate to a high-visibility location right in the heart of downtown Evanston, something less like a "hidden gem" and more like a "crown jewel."
Retail in Downtown Evanston: From a retail perspective, Downtown Evanston was already struggling before the pandemic. A recent article in Evanston Now reported that, following years of COVID challenges, Downtown has been hit hardest of all the greater Evanston shopping districts.
After our rent went up, one option was certainly just to call it a day and close up the shop. Bookstores across the country have closed their doors because of drastic rent hikes and diminished sales due to the combination of Amazon and COVID. Our request to the City for funding was based on the fact that, while we never wanted to move in the first place and were priced out of our home by a downtown developer, our new beginning on Orrington Avenue could also be part of the post-COVID rebirth of downtown. According to the whitehouse.gov ARPA fact sheet, the purpose of ARPA was to "invest $10 billion in successful state, local, and tribal small business financing programs to help small businesses innovate, create and maintain jobs, and provide the essential goods and services that communities depend on." And that's what we feel determined to do in our new space: Innovate, create and maintain jobs, and continue to provide a precious service that we believe our community depends on.
In our new space, we plan to be open later so that we can host more events and send dining traffic to the surrounding restaurants. We plan to build a bigger and better children's section that serves diverse populations and is an even more valuable resource for teachers and school librarians seeking books that represent the faces of the children they see every day. We hope to add a wine, beer, and cocktail service to enhance our frequent literary events and make it more fun to enjoy browsing on a Friday night out. And growing revenues from our enhanced visibility and services will also increase the substantial sales taxes we already pay to the community.
But we can't do any of this without your help.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: There are two main ways you can help Bookends & Beginnings successfully relocate and build an even better bookstore that will serve as a cultural and commercial hub of Downtown Evanston.
1. Contribute whatever you can to this GoFundMe campaign!
2. If you are an Evanston resident, send a note right now to your Alderman to let them know you want the City to approve the $83K allocation that has already been recommended, and to reconsider the bookstore's eligibility for ARPA funding. The City has granted funds to other businesses before us, and distributed millions of dollars of ARPA money, including $2 million for the relocation of Northlight Theatre to Evanston.
This move was forced upon us, but we think we and Downtown Evanston will end up in a better place if we embrace this challenge and build a better, even more compelling Bookends & Beginnings in the process. Please help make that possible!
Yours, as always,