As the city of Chicago began the process of gradually reopening on Wednesday, many businesses remained closed or boarded up.
Local restaurants can reopen with outside dining, retail shops can welcome customers, salons and barbershops can open up and other businesses such as hotels can start to operate. But all of the businesses will be subject to reduced capacities and tight rules designed to stop COVID-19 cases from spiking. And some may not reopen because of damage done during unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on Memorial Day.
Meanwhile, officials on Wednesday announced 982 new known cases of COVID-19 and 97 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known cases to 123,830 and the death toll to 5,621 statewide since the start of the pandemic.
Here’s what’s happening Wednesday with COVID-19 in the Chicago area and Illinois:
6:56 p.m.: Full tables on Randolph Street — but many restaurants remain boarded up
Although many of the restaurants on Randolph Street’s Restaurant Row were boarded up, the ones that were open for outdoor dining had full tables of people eating and drinking wine under tents set up on the sidewalk. The stretch is one of six streets selected by the city to be allowed to close to make room for additional outdoor dining space, but clearly the area isn’t ready.
Restaurants like Jaipur and Forno Rosso were open, while such powerhouses as Girl & the Goat and Lena Brava were not yet hosting outdoor dining.
Dozens of people were walking their dogs, running or waiting in line to pick up orders from restaurants and drink shops. Some were wearing masks, but most more were not.
Nearby on Morgan Street, Bar Takito’s sidewalk tables were full, with a line of would-be diners waiting. —Grace Wong
6:22 p.m.: New giant patio space opens in West Loop and people are ready for it
Two inflatable tube men — one red, one blue — danced chaotically in front of Recess Wednesday afternoon, signaling that the brand new patio had opened and was ready for customers. A sign out front confirmed it.
Originally part of City Hall, the 14,000-square-feet patio in the West Loop is now part of Recess, a restaurant and bar. It was rebranded when Joe Manna, chief operating officer, realized the name was confusing to guests, who kept finding the government offices instead of the restaurant.
Two hours after opening Wednesday, Recess already had more than 100 guests, with the majority of reservations yet to arrive. Reservations for this weekend’s brunch are already full. The bar will close Wednesday at 8 p.m. so people can get home before curfew.
Diners have been pretty good about wearing their masks, and sometimes when they leave their table and forget, they return to put them on.
“So many people in this area have watched this place go up and have been waiting for the patio to be open,” Manna said. “So many people have been like, ’finally.’”
“This side is a little more fun,” he said, noting the nods to politics in Chicago featured in their menu item names.
Construction on the former parking lot completed recently, and the design is an homage to the neighborhood, with more than 30 stacked shipping containers on the perimeter to create a more exclusive feel while remaining functional for seating and the bar.
Recess is serving a limited menu with plans to expand, but for now, they’re focusing on sandwiches, appetizers and salads, plus frozen cocktails and other libations. Guests who spend more than $10 on food can even receive a free haircut.
Although they’ve been building the multi-level space since the building opened last summer, they quickly finished final touches once they heard the governor’s order two weeks ago.
He said employees are excited to get back to work and customers are excited to dine out again.
“The goal here is to inject some positivity right now,” Manna said. —Grace Wong
6:11 p.m.: Wrigleyville awakens with classic bars filling up
The old standbys showed up in Wrigleyville for Wednesday’s business reopening, while relative newcomers — including all of the Hotel Zachary properties — held out.
Neighborhood go-to’s like Murphy’s Bleachers and Deuces + Diamonds were well occupied, with more guests arriving as time moved further past 5 p.m. Clark Street almost resembled what it might look like on a “normal” weeknight, with plenty of walkers, joggers, bikers, dogs — the works.
At Deuce’s, which has a sizable patio adjacent to the bar, general manager Jasper Robinson said they opened for lunch and had enjoyed a decent crowd all day.
The bar does have a limited menu for right now, since operators held off on placing a complete food order following the civil unrest in the area this past weekend. They just wanted to be sure the bar could open Wednesday before all orders were placed.
Tucked on the other side of Wrigley, Murphy’s Bleachers was popping enough to even have a momentary wait. Social distancing was in effect, though, between the patio tables, in the back, as well as in the line out front.
Michael Baruch and Madison Shelist live in the neighborhood and said they had been anticipating today’s reopening. After seeing what was open, they settled on Murphy’s.
“It’s the neighborhood spot,” Baruch said simply. —Adam Lukach
5:17 p.m.: Lightfoot urged to forego contact tracing contract
Mayor Lori Lightfoot should not hire an outside agency to oversee contract tracing for COVID-19 cases and instead use the money earmarked for that effort to beef up a diminished Chicago Department of Public Health, progressive activists said Tuesday.
They were reacting to Lightfoot’s announcement last week that the city would use $56 million in state and federal coronavirus relief funds to dramatically expand contact tracing, which epidemiologists say is key to preventing new case surges. Of that $56 million, $11 million would go to an outside agency that would oversee the massive effort.
Rose Joshua, president of NAACP Southside, called on the mayor “to immediately stop all contracting out of contact tracing, testing and all public health services and instead use federal, state and local funds to rebuild the Chicago Department of Public Health.”
The public health department pointed out in a response that the agency that will be chosen to head up the work must distribute 85% of the overall funding to at least 30 neighborhood organizations. Those agencies will be “primarily serving residents of communities of high economic hardship.”
And those community groups will be responsible for recruiting, hiring and supporting 600 contact tracers, supervisors and resource referral coordinators. “This program will employ hundreds of people across under-served neighborhoods in our city and invest in the long-term public health infrastructure of Chicago,” the response stated.
They also noted that the bidding process gives preference to nonprofit organizations to head up the work, and all those bidding are required to show a record of combating racism and working for health equality.
Dr. Howard Ehrman, a leader for the People’s Response Network and an assistant city public health commissioner under the late Mayor Harold Washington, said the number of city public health workers has declined from more than 2,000 to less than 500 over the last three decades — a diminishment he said was caused in large part by privatization of services, although there also has been a fall off in federal and state funding for public health.
The shift of many services to outside agencies he contended was partly responsible for the “complete mismanagement … of this disease” by state, county and city officials. He said all should have acted sooner to issue stay-at-home orders.
Joining the group was first-term Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, whose 25th Ward includes Pilsen, one of the areas with the highest rates of COVID-19 infection.
“I’m really concerned about how we are using or misusing our public dollars in the middle of a pandemic,” Sigcho-Lopez said. “We ought to have a Chicago Department of Public Health Department that is fully staffed.”
“It is unconscionable to have private institutions profiting from a pandemic,” he added. “This is not something that we should allow.”
Also joining the group were current and former union officials that have an interest in seeing the ranks of public workers expand. They included Tony Johnston, president of the Cook County College Teachers Union, who said city community colleges should be training new contact tracers, and Matt Brandon, former secretary treasurer of International Service Employees Union Local 73 and current president of Communities Organized to Win.
“This attempt by the city of Chicago to privatize work that should be done out of the Chicago Department of Public Health is an insult to our communities, to those of us who have contracted this virus, and to those of us who are really concerned about making sure about making sure that we have the right tools to meet this challenge,” Brandon said. —Hal Dardick
5:13 p.m.: Saved by a large patio and large shade trees in Hyde Park
Alexander Argirov has been through a lot since his restaurant Ascione Bistro opened last year at 1500 E. 55th St. in Hyde Park. The original plan was dine-in only, with an emphasis on their spacious patio, shaded by large trees. Now, that outdoor space is the key to bouncing back after the damage the pandemic wrought on his business.
“I feel really bad for other people in the business who don’t have space for that,” he said, adding that other restaurants on the block would have to resort to putting tables and chairs on the sidewalk, which requires various permits and licenses.
During the pandemic, he had to adjust the Italian restaurant’s menu to ensure that the food would travel well. He added family meals and specials, and hired servers as delivery drivers. Now, he’s splitting the business between dine-in on the patio and takeout or delivery, neither of which were part of the original plan.
“We can’t survive if people aren’t dining in,” he said. “We’ve adapted everything so we can grow in a different way, but we would like to go back to normal when of course, everything is ready.”
David Barlow, 31, who lives downtown, was dining with a friend at Ascione Bistro Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m just happy they’re open, it’s about time,” Barlow said. “All these other business are going to fail if they don’t start opening. We were at a different restaurant in Schaumburg a week ago and their seating capacity was like 100 tables and now they’re down to 14, and it’s kind of like a slaughter of business. I feel bad for them.” —Grace Wong
5:05 p.m.: Shopping centers hit by looting and vandalism look to reopen next week instead
Sandy Sigal, president and CEO of NewMark Merrill Companies, said he thinks most stores in NewMark Merrill’s shopping centers that weren’t already open as essential businesses will delay reopening in the wake of the unrest in Chicago.
“No one wants to have a false reopening,” he said. “In the normal scheme, we would be promoting tenants through our own social media. It doesn’t feel appropriate, and we can’t in good conscience promote for people to go into areas with curfews, where things might change from minute to minute.”
Two of NewMark Merrill’s Chicago-area shopping centers had at most minor damage. At Stony Island Plaza, 14 of 20 stores were broken into and vandalized, from a Jewel-Osco that had just been remodeled last year to Foot Locker to H&R Block, he said. Winston Plaza in Melrose Park had a few broken windows.
Neighborhood groups helped clean up Monday, and in the meantime, Sigal said stores in his shopping centers are boarding up windows and blocking entrances and exits to make it tougher for people intent on doing damage to quickly get in and out.
“This was not good for our momentum this week,” Sigal said. “Hopefully we can focus more on reopening next week.” —Lauren Zumbach
4:46 p.m.: Small Northwest Side shops’ return following pandemic shutdowns is slowed by recent unrest
The lights are slowly blinking on in the small storefronts that stretch down Fullerton Avenue west of Kimball Avenue.
But in this modest microcosm of The City that Works, lined with mom-and-pop restaurants and independent clothing shops, many storefronts remained shuttered Wednesday. Other shops planned to close long before sundown, with owners anxious about the safety of their staffs and the viability of their businesses.
Armando Pantoja said his Festa Pizzeria restaurant, 3525 W. Fullerton Ave., was attacked Sunday evening by would-be looters who demanded free pizza and threw chairs around before they dispersed.
A nearby pawnshop and a liquor store were targeted by burglars who broke windows Sunday, he and other neighborhood business owners said. And so he has been closing early, forgoing the busy evening hours.
“I lost more business with the protests than the virus,” said Pantoja, who said he has owned Festa for almost 18 years.
The small restaurant was open but dim Wednesday morning, with plywood covering the windows. “Through the pandemic, we were okay, but this new thing – you can’t be safe,” he said.
After a furlough of more than two months, haircutter Yolanda Hernandez said she was relieved to be back at her chair at Darlene’s Unisex, 3442 W Fullerton. But Hernandez said she was closing the shop in the early afternoon Wednesday because of the violence that scarred nearby businesses Sunday evening.
“I feel afraid of what is going on,” Hernandez said. “I feel safe from the virus, but it’s scary seeing all these people running around and taking stuff from businesses that are working hard.” Read more here. —David Jackson
4:33 p.m.: Pizzerias open for business along North Michigan Avenue
Outdoor dining along North Michigan Avenue is sparse any time, given the expensive real estate. The damage to multiple storefronts during looting this past weekend took a toll. But Labriola Chicago (535 N. Michigan Ave.), the pizza and sandwich restaurant just off the main drag, was open for outdoor dining Wednesday.
On the walkway built out over Grand Avenue, Labriola has patio space for more than 60 people, more than half the restaurant’s capacity. In mid-afternoon, just two tables were taken. Still, Matthew Graham, chief operating officer, was grateful to be reopening for on-premise dining.
“The Mag Mile is not what anyone expected it to be right now. We hope it gets put back together,” Graham said, referencing the unrest. “It’s an unfortunate time, hopefully this is the first step in things coming back.”
On the other side of Michigan Avenue, and tucked along a walkway behind the Trump Tower, Bongiorno’s Cucina and Italiana & Pizzeria had served eight tables outside by mid-afternoon.
“If it wasn’t for this building, I don’t think we’d have these windows,” Elizabeth Bongiorno, co-owner of Bongiorno’s, explained while looking back to Trump Tower. Without the added police presence near the building during the unrest, she thinks that the windows would have been broken. “A lot of restaurants can’t even open because they lost everything, so we’re pretty lucky we’re here.”
Two police officers could be seen inside the pizza place ordering takeout. Bongiorno brushed it off as status quo. “They know a lot of us, we know a lot of them,” she said, nodding to the officers.
Before the coronavirus shutdown, the restaurant saw many sales go to business people who worked in office buildings in the area. Now, the restaurant is limited to residential customers. But Bongiorno said she had been fielding calls Wednesday afternoon about reservations for the evening. —Kasondra Van Treek
3:58 p.m.: Chicago leaders cautiously optimistic as city reopens amid calming protests
On Chicago’s first day easing coronavirus restrictions on city businesses, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police Superintendent David Brown expressed hope that the city’s civil unrest was calming.
But, they said, the city remains on guard against both the COVID-19 disease and looting.
“We’re still only one day where we have some calming of the activities of looting and disorderly conduct. We are not letting our guard down,” Brown said. “We’re cautiously optimistic but prepared for this to escalate in case it does.”
The city’s keeping all of its resources in place, including the National Guard, and making strategic adjustments to help make sure residents in the neighborhoods feel safe, “given the looting,” Brown said.
Still, after being rocked by widespread looting downtown and in city neighborhoods over the weekend, Chicago experienced on Tuesday its quietest night of protests since they started, Brown said. Officials also recorded the lowest number of arrests since the weekend, with 274, Brown said.
The city also had the lowest number of looting calls and arrests, he said. There were 46 disorderly conduct arrests, he said, mostly for people throwing rocks or verbally assaulting city cops. Read more here. —Gregory Pratt
3:50 p.m.: Lining up to eat on the South Side
Around 2 p.m. Original Soul Vegetarian, a vegetarian restaurant on 75th Street on Chicago’s South Side, had a line out its doors. Nearby, Lem’s Bar-B-Q, which is strictly carryout, had plenty of cars in its parking lot.
Along 75th Street, appliance stores, restaurants and retail stores had signs in their windows in green, red and white lettering that read “Black Owned Business” and “Don’t Destroy Our Black Business.” Others had metal grates installed in the front.
The neighborhood around these South Side stalwarts were relatively quiet Wednesday afternoon. A man wearing a red ball cap waxed his car vigorously while a family unloaded groceries from their maroon van nearby.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced last week that the city would open streets for outdoor dining in six pilot corridors, but further details on when those corridors would open were elusive Wednesday afternoon. In a statement, the Chicago Department of Transportation said it and Business Affairs and Consumer Protection are working with local organizations and businesses to execute this plan.
Although 75th Street from Calumet Avenue to Indiana Avenue was designated as one of the pedestrian corridors, cars still zipped through this bustling stretch Wednesday. And Carmen Lemons, owner of Lem’s Bar-B-Q, said they plan to keep it that way.
“We can’t afford to close down 75th street because the street is too busy,” she said. “They’re going to have tables on the side and stuff but I can’t have tables in front of my store simply because we have the line. We are participating but there’s a certain limit.” —Grace Wong
3:33 p.m.: Shop owners balance reopening with safety concerns. ‘COVID-19 is still here despite everything that’s going on.’
Fleur owner Kelly Marie Thompson said she considered staying closed Wednesday to show support for people protesting systemic racism.
But the shop in Logan Square, expecting to be open, had already taken flower orders for birthdays and graduations, and she didn’t want to cancel on her customers.
“We’re trying to figure out the best way to respect everybody in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.
Still, Thompson said she isn’t ready to start letting customers back in the shop, until she has a better sense of whether customers are still paying attention to social distancing and wearing masks. She also worried protests could spark a surge in cases.
“We really want to make sure everyone is aware COVID-19 is still here despite everything that’s going on,” she said.
Thompson is taking the cautious approach even as she remains “very nervous” about the store’s finances.
Fleur did little business online before the pandemic forced nonessential stores to close. Thompson lost most of her wedding business, which she expected to account for about half of sales this year, due to ongoing restrictions on large gatherings. She also decided to expand the store in January, doubling its rent.
“I told myself early on to stay positive, do everything I can and stay healthy, and I’m still going with that,” she said. —Lauren Zumbach
3:27 p.m.: A Bronzeville clothing shop owner is unsure about reopening
Hak Tong Kim had looked forward to welcoming back customers to his Bronzeville clothing shop as the city slowly reopened this week, but on Wednesday he was still reeling from the looting that cleaned out his store Sunday night.
An immigrant from South Korea, Kim has had City Fashion for nine years and loved the store, but now he is questioning whether to reopen.
“Right now I don’t feel like,” said Kim, exhausted after barely sleeping since Sunday.
Kim, who stood in front of his store with a wrench to try to protect it Sunday night until it got too dangerous, estimates he lost $350,000. He said he doesn’t have insurance coverage because he was in the midst of researching more affordable policies.
“It’s so stupid,” he said angrily as he stood outside of his store, where inside volunteers were helping to clean up. His friends overseas who initially were sympathetic to the cause had changed their minds after seeing the vandalism.
A saving grace has been a GoFundMe fundraiser organized by his children. He was shocked when he saw it had raised $40,000 in a day. —Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
3:23 p.m.: Ukrainian Village gears up while Wicker Park sleeps
The uber-popular dining and drinking corridors of Division Street and Milwaukee Avenue in Ukrainian Village and Wicker Park had a mixed turnout.
The stretch of Milwaukee Avenue between North Avenue and Division Street was virtually absent of sidewalk setups Wednesday afternoon. After people causing property damage hit the area hard Sunday night, part of the fallout from the killing of George Floyd, most of the businesses remained boarded up with no clear signage about reopenings.
As of about 2:15 p.m., Chicago Police Department SUVs were blocking traffic between North and Ashland avenues “until further notice,” per the officer on the scene, which was all he could disclose.
The scene was much different along Division, as restaurants including Mac’s Wood Grilled, Black Hole Bar, Janik’s Cafe and more were already seating afternoon diners. At Black Hole Bar, Brendan O’Donnell admitted to some “trepidation” before going out Wednesday.
“It was definitely a little strange,” said O’Donnell as he was having a beverage with a friend. “It was almost like we weren’t sure what to do once we got here. It’s been a strange two and a half months.”
Between Ashland and Western, restaurants as far west as the Fifty/50 Bar had patios open and ready for customers this afternoon. —Adam Lukach
3:16 p.m.: Farther north on Milwaukee Avenue, more shoppers venture out. ‘I just needed to get out of the house.’
On the northern section of Milwaukee Avenue Wednesday, there were fewer boarded-up windows and more restaurants, barbershops and stores open for business.
Earth Rider Cycling owner Sharon Kaminecki decided to risk leaving her windows unboarded since there are few other retail stores on her block.
Earth Rider remained open as an essential business during the COVID-19 shutdown and bike sales have been up during the pandemic, she said. The unrest resulting from the police killing of George Floyd didn’t seem to be keeping people away. The store was busy enough Tuesday that one customer decided to come back Wednesday, when things were quieter.
Still, Kaminecki hopes more businesses in the area open soon. Earth Rider opened last year, and sometimes people discover the shop while walking to a nearby restaurant or yoga studio, she said.
People out shopping on Milwaukee Avenue Wednesday had some lingering concerns about the pandemic, but weren’t worried about the unrest.
“I just needed to get out of the house,” said Stephanie Fenza, 56, of Logan Square, browsing at Family Thrift Store early Wednesday afternoon.
Fenza said she misses going to restaurants, something she used to do five or six times a week, but she’s still hesitant to dine out. Shopping, where she can keep her distance from others, seemed safer.
Lisa Rubio, 33, of Logan Square, picking up food for her parakeet at Jules Pet Shop, was eager for stores and parks to reopen.
“I need summer clothes for my kids and my son’s eighth grade graduation,” she said.
She keeps her distance from others when out in public but wasn’t worried about the unrest as long as she can be home by the city’s 9 p.m. curfew.
Luis Perez, owner of Fundamental Body Piercing, had mixed feelings about reopening amid the fallout from Floyd’s death, but wasn’t worried about his business’s security.
“If I didn’t need the money, I would be out showing support,” he said.
But Perez, of Humboldt Park, said he couldn’t afford to stay closed, especially when rules meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 mean he can only work with one client at a time, down from a maximum of seven.
His first three days are fully booked, he said.
“People can’t wait to take care of themselves and buy something that makes them feel good,” he said. —Lauren Zumbach
3:07 p.m.: Local chamber is working to help its members
Out of the 1,500 businesses in the area covered by the Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce, more than 50 have boarded up because they had windows broken or were broken into during the unrest over the weekend, said the chamber’s executive director, Pamela Maass.
The chamber is trying to help some businesses file police reports. Some had trouble submitting them because the online system was swamped with reports, she said. Others are seeking legal assistance because they feel their landlords didn’t do enough to protect them by boarding up buildings, she said.
But others are eagerly moving ahead with reopening and requesting permits for outdoor dining.
The decision depends not only on whether the business suffered damage or is in a particularly hard-hit area, but also where employees live and whether they can safely get to and from work, she said.
“It’s really case by case,” she said.
While the damage may keep some businesses closed longer than they hoped, Maass said she was confident the unrest wouldn’t keep consumers away.
“The proof was in the activity Monday morning,” she said. “There were hundreds of people in the neighborhood helping clean up.” —Lauren Zumbach
2:51 p.m.: Cleanup begins in Bronzeville
A sea of boarded up windows greeted volunteers who descended upon the Lake Meadows Shopping Center in Bronzeville Wednesday to help clean up after vandals broke windows and looted most of the stores in the complex. Neither the Walgreens nor the UPS Store nor the nail salon nor the women’s clothing shop had been spared.
Michelee Harrell, 42, who lives nearby, had been looking forward to possibly grabbing a drink at a bar or sitting on a restaurant patio, as Chicago eased restrictions on businesses sidelined for more than two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead, she was picking up litter and sweeping up debris, and even stores that had previously been open are closed indefinitely.
“I think we’re getting further and further away from normal,” she said.
But the mood was not dour as people from across the city arrived to see how they could help.
Joy Williams, an artist and community organizer behind the cleanup, stood before a stack of water, paper towels and garbage bags and directed people to the areas in greatest need, suggesting some people head further south to Roseland.
“This gave everyone an opportunity to come together and take care of the community in a way that needed to happen,” said Williams, 21, who lives in South Shore. “The South Side needed to be cleaned up years ago.”
Though she was sad about the destruction of businesses, she said “it had to take something so drastic for people to come together to make change.”
Williams was heartened to see volunteers from Lakeview and elsewhere on the North Side show up ready to work, as engaging them had been difficult previously.
“They are very humbly trying to help and they feel remorseful,” she said. “This is a moment of solidarity and I’m really seeing that.” —Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz
2:41 p.m.: SpotHero lays off 42 employees, saying COVID-19 hurt the parking industry
SpotHero laid off 42 employees Tuesday, citing a parking industry that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
The layoffs represented 22% of the Chicago-based company’s employee base. It now employs 147 full-time workers, said Elan Mosbacher, senior vice president of strategy and operations.
SpotHero, which launched in 2011, is working to digitize the parking industry. Its platform helps customers find parking, and lets parking garage operators better track data and see trends.
COVID-19 kept many Americans home for months. That hit mobility and transportation services hard, including parking, Mosbacher said.
SpotHero hopes that trend will start to turn around soon. Read more here. —Ally Marotti
2:30 p.m.: 982 new known COVID-19 cases, 97 additional fatalities
Illinois officials on Wednesday announced 982 new known cases of COVID-19 and 97 additional fatalities, bringing the total number of known cases to 123,830 and the death toll to 5,621 statewide since the start of the pandemic.
1:58 p.m.: In Logan Square, one of Chicago’s biggest dining regions, reopening moves slowly
In northern parts of Logan Square at about lunchtime, preparations noticeably were being made at restaurants like the Harding Tavern, Longman and Eagle and Cafe con Leche.
At the corner of Sawyer and Milwaukee avenues, Old Plank was making the most of its huge windows. While many nearby restaurants and businesses have boarded windows as a preventative security measure, Esam Hani, the owner of One of a Kind Hospitality which operates Old Plank, said the fact that his restaurant’s outer walls were more than 50% windows helped it open sooner. By city regulation, restaurants with dining space within 8 feet of such windows can open for outdoor dining. Hani also oversees other restaurants on that stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, and Old Plank has been the first one to reopen.
“This (property), we were a lot closer to being ready, so this one is first,” Hani said. “But it’s not as easy as flipping a switch. We’re trying to get employees back right now, but a lot of them are making more money on unemployment right now than they did here. … We also have to teach everyone coming back new safety operations.”
Payton Orr and JD Mathys were sitting at a high-top table perched next to one of the restaurant’s massive windows. Neither of them said they felt particularly worried about COVID in the context of dining out, and they wanted to support the restaurants as long as they are open.
“I’m a little afraid we’re reopening too soon and everything will have to close again, but I also want these businesses to be able to be open as long as they can,” Orr said.
“I think people should be more concerned about the tens of thousands of people walking through the neighborhood without masks every day,” added Mathys.
That was about it for Logan Square in the early afternoon. South of Logan Boulevard, no restaurants were open, or even preparing to do so. —Adam Lukach
1:44 p.m.: Downtown Chicago restaurants mostly staying closed
Most of downtown is fairly quiet, with many restaurants still closed. A few places, like Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse (1028 N. Rush St.) and Maple & Ash (8 W. Maple St.), said they were considering opening Thursday.
Lettuce Entertain You, the city’s largest restaurant group, held off on opening Wednesday and will release a list of planned opening dates Thursday.
But David Flom, the managing partner at Chicago Cut Steakhouse (300 N. LaSalle Drive), says the restaurant has been extremely busy since opening this morning.
“We already have a 100 people here on the patio,” says Flom. “We also have a lot of reservations scheduled for tonight.”
He says they’ve been preparing for days to make sure the restaurant met all the guidelines from the city and state, including spacing the tables 6 feet apart, putting up plexiglass where it’s needed and having set walking paths for customers.
“The entire staff is also wearing masks,” adds Flom.
Wishbone (161 N. Jefferson St.) was open at lunchtime with three people sitting on the shaded outdoor patio. General manager Saskia Rivera said they had been getting calls about reservations.
When it comes to social distancing, Rivera’s goal is to take care of staff and customers “in the restaurant while keeping an eye on customers waiting outside for a table.”
By mid-afternoon the restaurant had had just a total of seven dine-in customers. —Nick Kindelsperger and Kasondra Van Treeck
1:34 p.m.: Charting structural inequities: How lowest-paid, least-secure jobs also tend to have highest risk for COVID-19
Before the death of George Floyd ignited a powder keg of tensions over social inequities in the U.S., COVID-19 had already laid them bare.
Blacks and Latinos, as well as lower-income people, are not only more likely to die from the disease than whites, but also are disproportionately hurt by the economic fallout because of the kinds of jobs they tend to hold.
In a new report, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute quantifies the “significant structural inequities” COVID-19 has revealed about Illinois’ economy.
Workers who hold the essential jobs that have kept society running during the pandemic, as well as nonessential workers like hair stylists and restaurant workers who are most at risk of virus exposure because of the face-to-face nature of their work, grapple with greater job and financial insecurity than their higher-paid counterparts who are able to work from home, the report said.
The report lists long-term policy recommendations to support workers at risk of being left behind in the economic recovery, including statewide paid sick leave and a state-run public health insurance option, in hopes they return to a normal that is better than the one they had before. Read more here. —Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz and Jonathon Berlin
12:47 p.m.: North Side customers show up for breakfast at restaurant patios
While some restaurants geared up to open for dinner service later in the day on Wednesday, many breakfast joints said they wouldn’t open until later this week or next week, citing confusion around the rules and regulations that would allow them to seat diners outside. Lost Larson, a bakery in Andersonville, said it hopes to open its back patio for brunch, but will be reservation-only. They have yet to set an opening date, however. But other restaurants were open for breakfast and saw a strong turnout.
Although they have a small patio of only three tables total, one of the owners of Savanna Restaurant, an American Ecuadorian breakfast and lunch restaurant in North Center, said he’s happy to finally open Wednesday. By mid-morning, they had already seen two tables of longtime customers, who have continued their patronage during the shelter-in-place order.
“It’s been really hard for all this time,” said Luis Calderon, one of the owners. “I’m happy for everything and what’s coming for now. We’re so excited. It’s going to be hard but we’re going to see what we can do.”
Cafe Selmarie, a bakery and restaurant in Lincoln Square, said they’re not in a rush to re-open. They plan to take it slow and see what happens, citing COVID-19 and the protests.
By mid-morning, the patio at Tweet in Uptown was still full of regulars who had started arrving when the cafe opened at 9:30 a.m. While no one is sitting and doing their crosswords like they would have before, owner Michelle Fire said she’s happy that everyone who has come by so far has worn masks and practiced responsible socialization.
“I think people are ready to come out, period,” Fire said. “I think they would sit in the rain today, to be truthful.”
She said the last few months have been extremely difficult for her and her business, and has felt financially and emotionally burdened.
“I felt like weeping all the time,” she said. “I still do, but this is a ray of hope, a ray of hope in the fact that everybody showed up in the last hour and a half and they’re being safe. No one is being silly.”
She said many restaurants probably feel wary about opening right away because of the protests surrounding the killing of George Floyd by a police office on top of the worldwide pandemic that still rages on. But she wanted to re-open Tweet, which she describes as a “down-home neighborhood comfort place” for this exact reason — to provide a safe place for the community and to bring in income for her employees, some of whom have families to support.
“I’m marching forward,” she said. “That’s all we can do, is march forward.” —Grace Wong
12:20 p.m.: For some Chicago businesses, the hits keep coming. ‘I’m just waiting for an earthquake.’
On Wednesday morning, Melissa Kmieciak, manager of Ragstock, unlocked the boarded-up door where someone had written “empty” in hopes of discouraging looters.
The store had been vandalized, though she declined to say how extensive the damage was. Ragstock had been ready to reopen after being closed during the COVID-19 shutdown, but will now likely wait until the unrest has calmed.
The wait was disappointing, but holding off for a few more days didn’t feel that hard, she said.
“We’ve already been closed so long,” she said.
Milwaukee Furniture, on the other hand, was open even though its window had been broken and remained boarded up. Security cameras caught one person trying to steal a computer and TV, but a police officer stopped the person, who left them behind, said owner Mustafa Quad.
Quad has kept the store open for appointments and to fill online orders, and he said he felt comfortable coming back.
Business has been down about 85% during the pandemic, Quad said. A couple weeks ago, the store basement was damaged by flooding. Then came damage over the weekend from widespread unrest over the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“There’s just so much chaos. … I’m just waiting for an earthquake,” he said.
Michael White, 26, was walking down Milwaukee Avenue with his father Wednesday morning after grabbing coffees at Wormhole.
The street looked much cleaner than it had over the weekend, but few shops appeared open for business.
White was still wary of going back to the gym because of the risk of exposure to COVID-19, but he had been looking forward to returning to restaurants this week. Now he’s less certain, not because of the virus but the risk of getting caught up in the unrest.
“I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but all it takes is a handful of people to start something,” he said. —Lauren Zumbach
12:08 p.m.: Museum layoff wave continues: Lincoln Park Zoo cuts 18 workers amid COVID-19 budget shortages
Even as two outdoor-focused institutions tentatively re-open, the wave of COVID-19-related layoffs at Chicago museums continues. Lincoln Park Zoo said Wednesday it is cutting 18 workers, about 7 percent of its workforce.
The move comes as the free north side zoological park anticipates a budget shortfall in the current fiscal year of $2.5 million to $5 million “minimally,” said Jillian Braun, director of public relations and communications.
Braun said the cuts were painful to the zoo, which has long been Chicago’s most popular attraction with about 3.5 million annual visitors. Like most major museums and nature parks, it closed in mid-March to help prevent the spread of coronavirus during the global pandemic. Read more here. —Steve Johnson
11:41 a.m.: As Chicago enters next phase of reopening, many stores remain boarded up
Many businesses along Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park remained boarded up Wednesday morning.
At Reckless Records, which had a screen blocking the view inside its store, pieces of paper taped to the window spelled out “Black lives matter every day.”
Reckless Records had hoped to open its Wicker Park and Lakeview stores Wednesday after being closed during the COVID-19 shutdown, but the unrest that hit Wicker Park Sunday put those plans on hold.
Reckless Records wasn’t damaged, but employees were still getting stores ready to operate safely amid lingering concerns about COVID-19. The stores need plastic sneeze guards, and nearby retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s had closed after looting in the area. Other stores are sold out of sneeze guards or required a lengthy wait, said Melissa Grubbs, manager of the Wicker Park store.
Reopening Reckless Records’ smaller Loop store will take more time. But the others will open as soon as possible, she said.
“We need to be open in order to survive,” she said.
A couple blocks away from Reckless Records’ Wicker Park location, salon Fringe also remained closed, with boards over its windows, even though owner Dawn Bublitz had already booked a full slate of clients in anticipation of opening Wednesday. She decided to wait, even though the salon made it through Sunday’s unrest undamaged.
“It just does not feel safe,” she said. “My staff doesn’t feel comfortable, and I don’t feel comfortable opening until the violence has stopped and the looting has stopped.”
Early Sunday evening, friends called and warned her she should board up the salon. She grabbed a few neighbors and within an hour removed everything they could, from products to computers. She isn’t sure when she’ll be ready to reopen, but hasn’t canceled appointments booked for this weekend yet.
“I’m just telling everyone we don’t know,” she said. Last week, people couldn’t wait to get their hair done after going months without a trip to the salon. Now, “it just seems like hair is the least important thing in our lives right now,” she said. —Lauren Zumbach
8:58 a.m.: ‘They let us down’: How the CDC fell short in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic
Long considered the world’s premier public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has fallen short in its response to the most urgent public health emergency in its 74-year history — a pathogen that has penetrated much of the nation, killing more than 100,000 people.
The agency made early missteps in testing and failed to provide timely counts of infections and deaths, hindered by aging technology across the U.S. health system. It hesitated in absorbing the lessons of other countries, and struggled to calibrate the need to move fast and its own imperative to be cautious. Its communications were sometimes confusing, sowing mistrust, even as it clashed with the White House and President Donald Trump.
“They let us down,” said Dr. Stephane Otmezguine, an anesthesiologist who treated coronavirus patients in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The agency issued a statement saying it was “providing the best, most current data and scientific understanding we have.”
But a New York Times review of thousands of emails, and interviews with more than 100 state and federal officials, public health experts, CDC employees and medical workers, documents how the COVID-19 pandemic shook longstanding confidence in the agency and its leader, Dr. Robert R. Redfield. These are some of the key findings. Read more here. —The New York Times
7:20 a.m.: Unions, activists to call on Lightfoot to use city workers instead of private contractors for contact tracing
A group of activists, elected officials and unions were expected Wednesday to call on Mayor Lori Lightfoot to hire city health workers to do COVID-19 contact tracing instead of using contractors/
The group, including the head of the NAACP South Side Chapter, the head of the Cook County College Teachers Union Local 1600 and other community organizations and elected officials were scheduled to hold an online news conference Wednesday morning. Contact tracing by health officials works to determine who a person infected with a disease may have been in contact with, and allows health officials to isolate anyone who may have been infected, to try to slow the spread of a disease.
The groups were expected to call on Lightfoot to hire health workers for contact tracing to “replace the 1,500 public health nurses and workers lost since 1990,” according to a news release. They also were expected to ask the city to work with community groups rather than private contractors and private hospitals.
The groups say that the current plan for contact tracing won’t have enough transparency, because it will be run by a private contractor. —Chicago Tribune staff
6 a.m.: After losing husband and both parents within weeks to COVID-19, suburban woman struggles with the unfathomable
When Mayra Velazquez dropped her husband, Saul, off at a hospital near their home in the northwest suburbs, she didn’t realize it would be the last time she would be with “the love of my life.”
But COVID-19 was not done with the Hanover Park family. In the days that followed, Velazquez would be forced to drop off both of her parents outside the hospital. Neither survived.
In her first public comments after an unimaginable loss, Mayra Velazquez, 37, said she hopes it will serve as a cautionary tale for others to heed public safety guidelines, especially as Illinois has begun to slowly re-open. Read more here. —Christy Gutowski
6 a.m.: As unrest jeopardizes some reopening plans, Chicago black chefs have mixed emotions but remain focused on pain behind protests
After Mayor Lori Lightfoot cut off access to Chicago’s downtown last weekend, protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — and resulting civil unrest — spilled into neighborhoods, including many predominantly black neighborhoods on the city’s South Side.
At Virtue in Hyde Park, chef/owner Erick Williams posted a sign in the restaurant’s window: “PLEASE DON’T, BLACK OWNED” read the most visible text. Williams said the events of this past weekend “totally affected” Virtue’s plans to reopen outdoor dining with the rest of the city Wednesday, after Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced the go-ahead Tuesday morning, but not because of any property damage. Williams is concerned about his team.
“Our staff is predominantly African American, and it would be irresponsible for me to have young men and women who are emotionally wired come into the building with the expectation of providing service, and risking their safety to get them here, because now it’s even more difficult to get to and from (work),” he said.
Having to make such a consideration underscores the same dangers of being black as the killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other police brutality victims. As Chicago continued to clean up from the fallout of Floyd’s killing, black chefs and restaurant owners spoke about the need to manage not only their operations, but also the safety of their staffs and their communities. Read more here. —Adam Lukach
6 a.m.: Moving during the COVID-19 pandemic? Here’s how to prepare for virtual tours and what questions to ask.
Finding a place to live is never easy. Finding a place to live in the midst of a global pandemic might seem almost impossible.
Since the state’s stay-at-home order began, real estate agents have gotten creative by virtually showing properties to prospective buyers and renters, using recorded videos, 3D tours and live video chats to give people as clear a picture as possible without them stepping foot inside a home.
Knowing the right questions to ask during a tour and inquiring about coronavirus-prompted special terms of a deal can make it easier to come to a decision — and provide peace of mind for the most thorough of home hunters. Read more here. —Hannah Herrera Greenspan