COVID-19 prompts some business owners to ask for support

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Madison Bratley/Daily Senior Staff

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

After being temporarily closed for most of 2022, the Edzo Burger Shop reopened in September. Sales picked up slowly, owner Eddie Lakin said, especially near the end of the year.

A paper sign says “Open for collection/take out only” next to a QR code.
Sign at Edzo Burger Shop. Owner Eddie Lakin said the community’s support has meant “everything” to him as he deals with broken equipment. (Madison Bratley/Daily Senior Staff)

But during Christmas week, the firm’s exhaust fan stopped working. Without it, Lakin could not effectively serve customers within the store. He opened up a GoFundMe 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 to every restaurant.”

Lakin wasn’t the only local business owner to ask for community support recently. 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.

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Main Demster Mile Executive Director Katherine Gotsick said she was lucky not to see businesses in her area drop 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 the shelves.
Shoppers in Bookends & Beginnings. The bookstore has started a fundraiser to help it relocate from its location on Sherman Avenue to its new space on Orrington. (Madison Bratley/Daily Senior Staff)

“One of the things that this recent closure list and GoFundMes lead me to believe is that we still can’t measure the curve of the damage of COVID,” Gotsick said. “Part of the reasons these businesses gave for closing was that they had the stimulus of COVID, and once the aid went away, it was more difficult.”

Small businesses are also hit by supply chain problems and inflation, she said.

Through his GoFundMe, Lakin raised over $18,000. He put the money towards repairing the leaking fan and regaining income lost during the closure.

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

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“It’s a lot less embarrassing this time because now I realize that I have the GoFundMe option and people are so responsive to it,” Lakin said.

At Al’s Deli, where the co-owners have not reopened for indoor dining due to health concerns related to COVID-19, business has been slow in recent years.

John Pottinger, co-owner of Al’s Deli, said Paycheck Protection Program loans helped keep his 74-year-old French deli afloat. But in the past few months, Pottinger said he has slowed down on rent.

So he reopened a GoFundMe, which was originally set up by a customer after the second round of CPP loans. Within two weeks, Al’s Deli raised over $17,000, Pottinger said.

“Financially, it’s great,” he said. “It practically makes me cry. If you go to the comment sections on the GoFundMe page, there are some very touching comments. It means a heck of a lot.”

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

Complex pandemic problems, masseuse and business owner Carla Eason recently faced rental problems. She moved her Body Works business with Carla and the new space on Madison Street now needs renovation.

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

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

Lakin expressed her appreciation for local support. He said he has seen people return year after year. He smiles at visitors who last stopped by when they were young enough to grab a juice box.

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

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

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @avivabechky

Related Stories:

Al’s Deli: From an American delicatessen to a French-inspired main chain

Edzo Burger Shop returns with a soft reopened interior

Bookends and Beginnings come together to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day


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