WBEZ is chronicling Illinois’ road to recovery, bringing you stories of people as they move on from COVID-19 physically, emotionally and economically.
Many Chicago restaurants and businesses Wednesday threw open doors and windows, moved chairs outside and welcomed their first in-person customers in months, now that the city loosened restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
But contending both with continued concerns of the coronavirus and unrest in the city after the death of George Floyd prompted some places to put off plans to reopen. Some owners cautioned that even as they did open up, it won’t be the “normal” customers have experienced in their places in the past.
With the city still requiring that restaurants open only on patios or near windows, running a restaurant right now means playing weatherman, said Hopleaf owner Michael Roper. He decided to reopen his Andersonville tavern on Chicago’s North Side Friday instead of Wednesday because of a rainy forecast.
This limited reopening is not an opportunity to make money, but lose less, he said. In the last 80 days, Hopleaf has made only 3% of normal sales. And his supply chain is completely disrupted.
During the shutdown, breweries weren’t producing kegs because unpasteurized draft beer has a short shelf life, Roper said. To make money while Hopleaf was closed, Roper sold nearly every canned and bottled beer in stock. His ordinarily robust selection of more than 200 beers has been cut to about 20 on draft.
Roper said customers should not expect the familiar restaurant experience. He can only serve 50 at time and he’s cut a staff of 65 people to just 12. He worries, too, that once people experience masked servers and time limits on tables, they won’t want to come back as often.
“You might pay a little bit more and get a little bit less than you anticipated,” he said. “That’s the way it’s got to be for a while or we just won’t be here.”
In Lincoln Square, a worker at Jerry’s Sandwiches slid open windows to allow diners to sit inside, where they’ll eat on paper plates.
“Lots of fresh air,” said the shop’s general manager Adam Dempewolf, opening up the windows for the first time since March. “It feels good to have the windows open and ready to serve.”
But many businesses in Chicago couldn’t reopen Wednesday, some because they sustained looting damage, others because of the need to find and train staff. Still others won’t open at all after being unable to survive the financial blow of being closed for weeks.
Jeri’s Grill, also in Lincoln Square, announced its closure earlier this spring with a sign on the door after 57 years in business.
“Jeri’s Grill was part of the past living in a modern world,” the sign reads. “Unfortunately the past can no longer survive in this post pandemic world. We will always cherish the memories, the laughs and the tears at Jeri’s.”
At Moon’s Sandwich Shop at Madison Street and Western Avenue, customers waited outside for corned beef sandwiches. The shop stayed open through the shut-down with pickup orders, but doesn’t have the patio space or outdoor seating to open up for sit-down service even now.
In Bucktown, the owner of Definition Barbershop said he’s excited to provide a community gathering space again and is already booked into next week.
“I’m on a roll,” said barber Andrew Rivera. “I’ve got like maybe 9, 10 people today? So, yeah, I’m already like, ‘Woo!’ Sweaty and all that, so I’m excited.”
But, Sparrow, a hair salon in Logan Square, has chosen not to reopen until July.
Co-owner Susan Flaga-McAdams said about half of the salons she’s familiar with have also decided a month of income is not worth potentially exposing themselves and their employees to COVID-19.
Until then, the shop is investing thousands in plexiglass barriers, masks and washable smocks and capes.
Social distancing rules mean she’s limited to six customers at a time, with a built in buffer time between appointments to sanitize equipment. Luckily, the chairs were already six feet apart, she said.
“It’s going to be a very different place,” she said. “No more magazines. No more drinks. No more touching products. It’s really going to change the flow of the whole process.”
Sparrow first shut down in March. The $150,000 federal assistance loan the business got kept it from closing for good. Flaga-McAdams said they’ve used the money to pay down credit cards and are trying to use as little as possible. Even with a low interest rate, that’s a big financial burden, she said.
Day care centers were also able to open after months of operating with emergency licenses. But it was a slow start at Grandma Marie’s Learning Center in West Englewood, where caregiver Leshia Ward said she was just pleased to be among a few children after months away.
“I miss my kids. So I feel good, being back at work,” she said.
Vivian McCall is a news intern at WBEZ. Mariah Woelfel is a reporter at WBEZ. Follow them on Twitter @MVivianMcCall and @MariahWoelfel