Chicago will move into Phase 3 of its reopening plan as scheduled Wednesday. That will allow restaurants to have on-site, outside dining. The mayor made the decision after touring damaged areas on the South and West sides.
Despite rioting and looting that damaged businesses across the city, Chicago will forge ahead on Wednesday with its plan to partially emerge from the stay-at-home shutdown tied to the coronavirus.
“We will reopen tomorrow,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a Tuesday morning press conference.
She said she had made the decision after touring damaged commercial strips on the South and West sides and talking to business owners across the city — businesses that had been gearing up to reopen but were instead cleaning up debris and contacting their insurance companies.
They were nearly unanimous in their desire and determination to reopen their businesses and get people back to work, she said.
“One business owner did burst into tears, saying how much her business means to her,” Lightfoot said Tuesday. “That was a humbling experience to bear witness to their resolve.”
In making the decision to tiptoe into Phase 3, City Hall is well aware that scores of businesses looted and damaged during weekend rioting that continued Monday are not yet prepared to reopen.
Those businesses still cleaning up broken glass, replacing shattered windows and replenishing merchandise picked clean by looters will reopen at their own pace.
The city will assist and secure in the reopening process, Lightfoot said, particularly for businesses damaged by rioting and looting.
“We are here. We stand at the ready to help them,” mayor said, That will include police protection for vital businesses that were looted, such as pharmacies and grocery stores.
“We need you,” Lightfoot said.
But those businesses that emerged relatively unscathed and are prepared to reopen may do so.
Lightfoot praised business owners and residents committed to their neighborhoods. In the 7th Ward on the Far South Side, she said, residents tried to ward off looters and succeeded, to a point, mayor said, reclaiming territory from looters. It happened there and elsewhere around the city, she added.
In checking out damage on the South and West sides, “universally, I heard, we have to step forward. We have to reopen,” Lightfoot said. “‘Our workers are ready. We need to see our customers. They need to see us being resilient.’”
Still, the question remains: How safe will it be, and how reluctant will customers and outdoor diners be to return when demonstrations peacefully protesting the death of George Floyd can turn ugly and violent on a dime?
Only time will tell.
Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia said Lightfoot made the right decision to proceed with Phase 3. Still, he acknowledged “dozens and dozens” of damaged restaurants — particularly in River North and Wicker Park — are still picking up the pieces and will not be ready to join in the reopening.
“This is not gonna help all restaurant owner-operators throughout the city. But it’s a step in the right direction toward opening our economy and getting things to be back to a little bit normal in Chicago,” Toia said.
Toia noted Chicago had a “calm night” Monday with a peaceful protest in Lakeview.
“If we have another calm night tonight, maybe tomorrow the bridges will go back down. We’ll open back up the Central Business District. And you’ll get some people coming down. I don’t know if there’ll be a lot of restaurants opening up tomorrow. But, I do imagine, some,” he said.
“Some will look at opening more on Friday and Saturday. But there are quite a few people that live in the Central Business District as well. If we have another calm night, the restaurants that do open to al fresco dining could definitely get some of the residents to come out.”
Toia renewed his plea for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to allow restaurants to open to at least some indoor dining during the month of June.
“Inside would be a little bit closed off more,” from the danger or rioting, he said.
The rioting may have become a factor in the reopening, but the reason for the shutdown remains: a global pandemic.
Phase 3 is called the “Cautiously Reopen” phase, and Lightfoot means it: the threat of COVID-19 is “still very much with us,” she said.
“We have to be cautious. We have to be careful. That means you.”
Nonetheless, the city has met all the benchmarks it must meet to enter Phase 3, Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s health commissioner, said Tuesday.
“New cases are continuing, but they are on the decline,” Arwady said.
With temperatures expected to climb into the 90s this week, Arwady also reminded people to not be afraid to open their windows, or take advantage of city cooling centers, and CTA cooling buses, if needed. You don’t increase your risk of COVID by opening your windows and bringing in fresh air, she said.
Wednesday’s partial reopening with limited capacity runs the gamut — from hotels, outdoor dining at restaurants, office-based jobs and professional services to non-lakefront golf courses, child care inside and outside the home, non-essential retail stores and personal services.
Chicagoans whose hair and nails have grown exponentially during the pandemic will be relieved that barber shops, hair and nail salons are included — at limited capacity, with strict safety precautions.
That includes face masks for everyone, gloves for stylists, goggles or face shields during shampoos — but no beard and mustache trims for men or whole-face makeup for women. Lashes and eyebrow trims are OK, since that work can be done without removing a customer’s face mask.
Lightfoot has also announced a plan to make outdoor dining more lucrative by closing streets in six of Chicago’s busiest restaurant corridors — Chatham, Lakeview, Little Village, the Gold Coast, the Near West Side and West Loop — to allow restaurants to set up tables in bus lanes and adjacent parking lots.
The corridors include:
- 75th Street between Calumet and Indiana avenues
- Broadway between Belmont and Diversey avenues
- 26th Street between Central Park and Harding avenues
- Rush Street between Oak and Cedar streets
- Taylor Street from Loomis to Ashland avenues
- Randolph Street, west of the Kennedy Expressway “no further than Elizabeth.”
But the plan will not get underway until permits are issued and the days and hours of street closings in the “pilot” areas are determined in coordination with local restaurant owners and chambers of commerce.
In some neighborhoods, it could be Friday, Saturday and Sunday for dinner only. In other areas with coffee shops, breakfast and lunch places, there could be mid-day closings that extend throug the week.
Like Toia, Lightfoot has urged Pritzker to let neighborhood restaurants without sidewalk cafes open their doors to at least some indoor dining; otherwise, they may not survive the pandemic.
“What I’m really worried about is those small neighborhood restaurants. The cash flow is very limited,” the mayor has said.
“I talked at length with the governor about that. And I know that he understands the importance of making sure that we can give those neighborhood restaurants in particular that opportunity.”
Bars must wait to take advantage of the new state law authorizing the sale of cocktails-to-go. Lightfoot said she’s drafting a Chicago-specific ordinance, presumably for direct introduction to a City Council committee in time for final approval June 17.
“This is really something the City Council needs to take on. But, we feel confident we’ll be able to adapt quickly … so that this opportunity that’s now been provided by state law will become a reality,” the mayor said.
City services, including libraries and Chicago Park District facilities (but only west of Lake Shore Drive) reopen June 8.
Conspicuously absent from the Phase 3 list are religious services, gyms and the lakefront that Lightfoot famously shut down because Chicagoans could not be trusted to maintain social distance and avoid gathering in large groups.
Lightfoot has said she hopes to open those “later in Phase 3,” but only after seeing “see how our first steps go.”
“The lakefront is a beautiful, incredible treasure. I want to make sure that, when we open it back up, that people can enjoy it safely and smartly. What I don’t want to see happen is scenes that we’ve seen from other states, where you open up a resource that people really love and enjoy, and then it gets mobbed and you see people abandoning all of the hard work and social distancing and public health guidance that really got us to the point where we can even talk about opening,” the mayor has said.
“We want to plan where we don’t have to say, `This is terrible. We’ve got to shut it back down.’ We want to be smart and thoughtful and intentional about how we reopen our lakefront and beaches. … I think we’ll be in a position to announce plans soon. But, I don’t want to put a specific date on when that’s gonna happen. We are actively involved in looking at ways to bring that important resource back on line and do it quickly.”
With social distancing mandates and most businesses limited to 50% of their normal capacity (25% at non-essential retail stores), rush-hour commuting is likely to be spread out over the course of the workday.
How will the CTA accommodate that new reality?
“What I’ve been hearing from both workers and also from employers is that, in many instances, they’re not coming back downtown — and certainly not full-time — until much later in the summer or, in some instances, even the fall,” the mayor said.
“So I don’t think we’re gonna see, for example, February levels of rush hour. But that’s why I’m calling upon employers. If your people can tele-work, that’s a safer option. Or if they’re coming back downtown for reasons that make sense from a business standpoint, think about staggering the starts and stop time so that we can spread out the number of people that are gonna be on the CTA, but also Metra, at any given time.”