Madison Bratley/Daily Senior Staffer

John Pottinger owns the almost 74-year-old Al’s Deli on Noyes Street with his brother. Pottinger, like several other local business owners, has put out a GoFundMe asking for community support in recent months.

Aviva Bechky, City Editor

After temporarily closing for the majority of 2022, Edzo’s Burger Shop reopened in September. Sales slowly picked up, owner Eddie Lakin said, especially close to the end of the year.

A paper sign says “Open for pickup/takeout only” next to a QR code.
A sign at Edzo’s Burger Shop. Owner Eddie Lakin said community support meant “everything” to him as he dealt with broken equipment. (Madison Bratley/Daily Senior Staffer)

But during the week of Christmas, the business’s exhaust fan stopped working. Without it, Lakin couldn’t effectively serve customers inside the store. He opened up a GoFundMe to ask for community support through the end of the holidays.

“If we didn’t have community support … the restaurant would be out of business,” he said. “Community support is everything for every restaurant.”

Lakin wasn’t the only local business owner who recently asked for community support. Other Evanston staples like Bookends & Beginnings, Coffee Lab & Roasters and Al’s Deli also put out fundraisers as they deal with inflation, rent and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Main-Dempster Mile Executive Director Katherine Gotsick said she’s been lucky not to see businesses in her district releasing fundraising campaigns.

But she also said many businesses drew on their emergency funds during the pandemic, so if something broke, they might not have much left — the situation Lakin faced.

People look at books on shelves.
Shoppers in Bookends & Beginnings. The bookstore started a fundraiser to help it relocate from its Sherman Avenue location to its new space on Orrington. (Madison Bratley/Daily Senior Staffer)

“One of the things that this recent list of closures and GoFundMes leads me to believe is that we can’t yet measure the curve of COVID damage,” Gotsick said. “Some of the reasons that these businesses gave for closing was that they’ve been propped up by COVID stimulus, and once the assistance went away, it was harder.”

Supply chain problems and inflation have also hit small businesses hard, she said.

Through his GoFundMe, Lakin raised over $18,000. He put the money toward repairing the exhaust fan and recouping revenue lost during the closure.

But after getting the fan up and running for a few days, it broke again. He had to close the shop, fix the fan again and start over. Even so, he said he felt calmer the second time around.

“It’s actually a lot less nerve-wracking this time around because I now realize that I have the GoFundMe option and that people are so responsive about it,” Lakin said.

At Al’s Deli, where the co-owners haven’t reopened for indoor dining because of COVID-19-related concerns for their health, business has been slow for the past few years.

John Pottinger, a co-owner of Al’s Deli, said Paycheck Protection Program loans helped keep his almost 74-year-old French deli afloat. But over the last few months, Pottinger said he slowly became more and more behind on rent.

So he reopened a GoFundMe, which a customer initially set up for him after the second round of PPP loans. Within two weeks, Al’s Deli raised over $17,000, Pottinger said. 

“Financially, it’s great,” he said. “Practically makes me cry. If you go to the comments sections in the GoFundMe page, there are really heart-rendering little comments there. Means a heck of a lot.”

People look at books on shelves.
Shoppers in Bookends & Beginnings. The bookstore started a fundraiser to help it relocate from its Sherman Avenue location to its new space on Orrington. (Madison Bratley/Daily Senior Staffer)

Compounding pandemic problems, masseuse and business owner Carla Eason faced recent problems with rent. She moved her business Body Works by Carla and now needs to refurbish the new space on Madison Street. 

As a result, fellow business owner Amy Landolt started a fundraiser to support Eason’s business.

Community support, Eason said, “just means that I can fully run my business.”

Lakin echoed her appreciation for local support. He said he’s seen people return year after year. He’s laughed with visitors who last stopped by when they were young enough to grab a juice box.

Small businesses like Edzo’s, he said, create a common gathering space.

“Running a restaurant is kind of a labor of love to being a part of a community,” Lakin said. “So it’s been awesome to see that it’s reciprocated — that people in Evanston really feel the same way about us.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

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Al’s Deli: From American delicatessen to French-inspired mainstay

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