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City eyes aid to ‘legacy businesses’

Evanston’s Economic Development Committee is scheduled to vote Tuesday evening on a plan to provide financial support for existing small businesses.

The program, as proposed by city staff, would provide grants up to $25,000 per business and $10,000 for owners of properties leased to local businesses.

Initial funding for the program is proposed from the city’s Business District Improvement Account, which has an annual budget of $250,000 and also funds other projects.

Economic Development Specialist Katheryn Boden, in a memo to the committee, says preserving small businesses “is critical to maintaining Evanston’s unique character and cultural identity.”

She adds that so much attention is focused on new business openings that existing businesses facing an increasingly competitive retail environment don’t get enough appreciation.

And, she says, it’s much easier to retain an existing business than to attract a new one to fill a vacant space.

The new proposal is patterned on the Legacy Business Registry & Preservation Fund in San Francisco that provides grants and promotion to long-standing small businesses there.

San Francisco’s program provides grants of up to $50,000 to businesses and $22,500 for property owners. It is said to have helped more than 230 businesses and nonprofits since its creation in 2015.

The Evanston City staff is asking the committee to consider how long a business would have to have been in operation to qualify for the program and what other standards a business would have to meet.

The funds, the memo says, might be used for “rent stabilization, upgrading physical space and/or acquiring modernized capital equipment.”

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