Best of Evanston

ew_suptspotlight_video2015Dr. Eric Witherspoon gets my vote for Person of the Year. He is an inspiring speaker and educational leader. He cares deeply about the students at Evanston Township High School. But the pitch perfect message he delivered over the loudspeaker the morning after the election resonated in the school’s classrooms, across the houses and apartments of Evanston, and soon went viral across the country. This short epistle is only 275 words, but together they are more riveting than all the Tweets, speeches, and position papers leading up to the election and more comforting than all the ones that followed. Read it again to be re-inspired; save it for future reference in the coming months. I suspect we are going to need it.

northwestern-universityNorthwestern University is a great corporate citizen within Evanston. It is the city’s top employer and an essential contributor and participant within the social fabric of Evanston. It offers a beautiful lakefront campus and a calendar filled with lectures and first-class musical, theatrical, athletic, and cinematic entertainment, much of it open to the public. It is the home of groundbreaking research and Sir Fraser Stoddart, one of 2016’s Nobel Prize recipients. I am a fan of the Jazz Small Ensembles and National Theatre Live at the Wirtz. Come join me.



The beautiful lakefront of Lake Michigan serves as my backyard. I love the bike path that winds around its edge and the serenity I feel whenever I pass by. The view from Northwestern looking south toward Chicago never fails to inspire me…as well as remind me of Oz, the Emerald City.



Evanston fosters a wonderful environment for small businesses and creative, artistic stores. One of my favorites is Ayla’s Originals, a shop that inspires, encourages, and provides supplies and lessons to beaders (those who bead) all over the North Shore. I originally visited Ayla’s for some assistance with jewelry repairs, but was drawn in by the friendly atmosphere and wonderful sense of community. Ayla’s offers a fantastic selection of beads from all over the world — including rare, collectible, and antique ones — as well as an array of individualized classes on techniques of jewelry-making. Take a class and see if this craft is for you. Treat yourself: do something creative every day.

We love to read in Evanston and there are many great bookstores catering to bibliophiles as well as a fantastic public library system. My favorite bookstore is Bookends & Beginnings for its fantastic selection, personalized service, great recommendations, and cozy atmosphere.  But there are others. Try Chicago Rare Book Center, tucked away on Washington Street; they specialize in children’s books, modern literature, jazz and blues, art, Chicago, the Midwest, and Americana. Comix Revolution specializes in comics and graphic novels. And if those specialties are not niche enough for your tastes, try Montagnana Books. They focus on books and collectibles about the violin family.

Happy reading, biking, and beading. As Dr. Witherspoon advises, “Let’s protect and take care of each other. Everything is going to be okay.”

My Favorite Bookstore

In the center of downtown Evanston there is a nearly hidden street, Sherman Alley, that is home to a charming and cozy bookstore, Bookends & Beginnings. Residing in the newly refurbished space formerly held by Bookman’s Alley, an antiquarian bookstore, Bookends & Beginnings invites you to linger, browse, discuss and get lost in the printed word.

Owned by Nina Barrett, a published author, chef and award-winning reporter for Chicago’s NPR outpost WBEZ, and assisted by her husband, Jeff Garrett, a retired academic research librarian, the store showcases general interest books designed to appeal to Evanston’s eclectic, multi-ethnic and highly educated population. Bookends & Beginnings features a roster of literary events such as author readings and book discussions. The wide selection of wares includes new, gently used and remaindered books; the staff enthuse about books and will gladly offer recommendations, as well as source special requests for hard to find books. The children’s section is impressive, not only for the comfy sheep stools and tall statue of Glenda the Giraffe, but for its breadth of international publications, a special interest of Jeff’s. The cooking section is equally robust, no doubt due to Nina’s culinary background. The store also sells gift items, most with an Evanston or writer-related connection.

Kudos to Nina for championing and opening an independent bookstore right here in our midst. Bookends & Beginnings is open every day of the week: Tuesday – Saturday 10am to 6pm, Sunday and Monday 10am to 5pm.