EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) — Downtown Evanston conjures images of elegant prewar office and department store buildings, striking modern condo towers, and sophisticated shoppers and diners walking the streets and boarding ‘L’ and Metra trains.

But Evanston city officials say a certain problem that has been marring that beauty lately.


Late at night, downtown visitors can look across Sherman Avenue – one of downtown Evanston’s busiest streets with an array of fashionable retailers – and sometimes see baby rats racing around one of the large metal trash containers in the alley just to the east toward Orrington Avenue.

“I just saw a rat near the entrance of the library on the Orrington side of the street, but it was running down an alley,” said a man, walking into Starbucks Monday night on the 1700 block of Sherman Avenue.

A student, who was studying, said she sees them all the time, on her walks to and from downtown to the Main Street and Judson Avenue area in the southeastern part of Evanston.

Officials held a walk-through of the area in October, and also sent a follow-up letter to well more than 100 downtown merchants, advising them of steps they can take to control the problem, said Carl Caneva, the city’s environmental health division manager, when asked about the sightings.

“It’s a cooperative approach,” he said.

Caneva said the department has received some calls. He said most of the activity is identified by inspectors who find burrow holes or waste droppings left by rats.

He said inspectors are focusing on Orrington and Sherman avenues, stretching from the Evanston Public Library, at 1703 Orrington Ave. at the junction with Church Street, to two blocks south.

In the Oct. 13 flier that went out to merchants, officials reported, “rats have been observed in the downtown area. The Health Department has received numerous calls about sightings and has observed burrows. We have set traps to catch rats, but are in need of your help to remove food, water and shelter.”

The newsletter highlighted areas where merchants can take steps.

• Food: “Keep all food in sealed containers. Grease on plates and refuse like chicken bones make an excellent meal for rats. All dumpsters must be covered and locked. Check for leaks and work with your hauler to repair.”

• Water: “Similar to humans, rats need water, too, so look for puddles or containers with water in them.”

• Shelter: “Rats love litter; they use it to build complex burrows. Paper products (newspapers, napkins) must be immediately cleared up. Check around your business for holes where they can enter. Rats can fit into spaces as small as a quarter.”

Neal Lukatch, a frequent visitor downtown, said he mostly saw the rats late at night, near the different planters on Orrington Avenue, near the library.

On one night, while the weather was still warm, he was riding his scooter and three guys on bicycles were in the area, and when the rats showed, “they were doing wheelies on their bicycles,” surprised at the sight.

Another man suggested that the Peregrine falcons that roost near the top ledge of the library, haven’t been doing their job as of late.

Caneva said some of the smaller rats, most often in view, are likely baby rats sent to gather food for the family while the “alpha” rats remain in their burrows.

The student in a nearby Starbucks, though, said the ones she has been seeing are definitely not all little.

“A lot of them are bigger than ones you see at the pet store,” she said.

The Evanston Review’s Bob Seidenberg contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire.

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