“It’s like the door has cracked open a bit,” one diner in Evanston said as he enjoyed an iced tea at a table set up on a sidewalk outside a diner.
They ate, they drank, they got their hair and nails done, they shopped for clothes — and it was lovely.
Friday marked the first loosening of some restrictions on a number of business across Illinois, and though Chicagoans are still on a tighter leash until Wednesday, in the suburbs, people enjoyed non-essential creature comforts they’d been deprived for months, ever since Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-home order took effect March 21.
“If you could see my face, you’d know I was smiling,” was a common refrain among masked patrons and shop owners who spoke with the Sun-Times.
Marla Cramin, owner of Sarkis Cafe in Evanston, said customers were brimming with enthusiasm on social media after she posted about reopening for outdoor service.
“People were like, ‘Can we camp out so we can be the first in line?’ and ‘I’m going to bring beer and a band!’ and “Can we picnic?’” she said.
Employees at Salon Antou in downtown Evanston wore face masks and face shields as they worked on customers who sat in every other chair.
Gail Kaitis said the safety measures put her at ease, and besides, she was desperate.
“I’ve just been looking at my hair and thinking how awful it looks. It just proved to me I don’t ever want to go gray,” said Kaitis as she sat for a cut and color.
John Delano, 72, cherished a glass of iced tea at a table outside Prairie Joe’s diner on Central Street in Evanston.
“It’s the start of a change. It’s like the door has cracked open a bit. … We can sit outside here and have a conversation,” he said.
Owner Aydin Dincer said it’s been tough to adjust to a carryout business. “But we have a loyal support base, so that’s helped. I’m very excited today to have people back, even if it’s just on the sidewalk,” he said.
At C’styles Barbershop in South Suburban Harvey, apart from the face masks, extra sanitation and a stack of chairs where the waiting area used to be, things felt typical.
“It’s pretty much like a normal Friday,” said owner Cory Young.
At Notice, a resale clothing and accessories shop in Evanston, Becky Jackson was relieved to restart her family’s business.
“It’s quiet but it’s nice to have the door open and actually let people into the shop,” she said. “People are a little cautious but a little excited just to be able to walk through.”
The partial reopening doesn’t mean things back to normal in the suburbs. Pritzker’s plan still restricts gatherings to 10 people or fewer. Face coverings are required in public. Retailers may open, but with limited capacity. Barbershops, salons and gyms must follow certain rules.
Restaurants and bars are open for outdoor dining only and for parties of six people or fewer. Youth sports activities are limited to drills, practices and lessons that involve no contact between kids and allow for 6 feet of social distancing. Fitness classes are limited to one-on-one training, outdoor classes with a maximum of 10 participants and no contact between attendees.
In Oak Park, those rules meant Asrael Phillips was working the door of K-Stone Beauty Supply like a bouncer, waiting for someone to leave before letting someone in and only after squeezing sanitizer into the customer’s hands and making they wore a mask.
Phillips wore a N95 mask, a plastic face shield and gloves.
“It feels pretty normal now, you know, with putting on the masks, the gloves and hand sanitizing all the time,” Philips said. “And people are really following our rules.”
A little further west in Oak Park, at Poor Phil’s Bar and Grill, 139 S. Marion St., the outdoor patio was bustling with customers eager to dine in for a change.
“We are getting all our regulars back and it is really nice to see,” said general manager Mary Murphy.
More importantly, Murphy said, she was able to bring back 15 of her 32 employees.
Over at Hype Hair Salon, 317 Madison St. in Oak Park, stylist Tara Harris was just happy to get back to what she has been doing for 22 years – cutting hair.
“The last two months has been couch-to-kitchen then kitchen-to-couch,” Harris said. “I’m happy to get my butt out the house.”
At Orland Square Mall, most shoppers wore masks, though some let them dangle below their mouths.
The food court was empty, and many stores in the mall remained closed.
At Zumiez, a clothing store, manager Jessica Palumbo said it felt good to be open again.
“People want to get out of their homes, and they’re bringing a lot of that energy to us, where they just want to get out, they want to see what’s new and they want to enjoy the beautiful weather,” Palumbo said.
In Oak Lawn, The Barrel Club in Oak Lawn had customers filing in as soon as it opened about 5 p.m.
Dining was by reservation only for the 60 seats are available on the restaurant’s patio. At the start of the night, the restaurant had about 190 reservations, said general manager Chris Schnepp.
Getting back to work is a relief, he said.
“What a lot of people don’t understand about bartenders, servers and cooks is when we’re not doing what we do, we tend to go a little crazy because it’s our work but it’s also our therapy at the same time,” Schnepp said. “It’s nice to basically bring your family back.”