LAKEVIEW — The coronavirus pandemic has flipped Lisa Santos’ business model for Southport Grocery and Cafe on its head.
Normally, the restaurant side of Southport Grocery and Cafe at 3553 N. Southport Ave. accounts for almost 85 percent of its revenue. But when restaurants were closed mid-March, Santos had to lean on the other side of her business: a boutique grocery store that does its own canning, preserving and pickling, and sells a popular bread pudding pancake mix.
She scaled the cafe’s restaurant service back to just to-go and delivery orders, while expanding her storefront with themed gift baskets, care packages and weekend brunch specials. Santos said it has helped, but it’s not enough for the business to fully heal from the pandemic’s financial impact.
“These are great ways for us to stay in peoples’ minds, but it’s nowhere near what it takes to keep this place running,” Santos said. “It’s like putting a band-aid on someone who has a huge gash over their chest.”
Santos said her business’ future is unclear, but she’s “keeping optimistic, thanks to my customers.”
“What keeps me going is the nice emails they send or the quick interactions at the doorway when they’re picking up pancake mix,” Santos said.
Santos is one of many small-business owners in Lakeview navigating the financial impact of the pandemic. According to a recent survey by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, the average neighborhood business projected its income would be down by 81 percent in April.
Additionally, nearly 75 percent of businesses said they could only survive through July under current conditions, according to the survey, which was taken between April 16 and May 1. The Lakeview Chamber of Commerce includes neighborhood businesses west of Racine Avenue that collectively employ more than 8,000 people.
“Every day this crisis lingers on, businesses are one step closer to making really tough decisions,” said Dillon Goodson, executive director of the Lakeview Chamber. “We fear permanent closures could be coming if we aren’t able to enter into the next phase of recovery soon.”
Chicago — unlike the rest of Illinois that begins reopening on Friday — will likely begin Phase 3 of recovery in early June, Mayor Lori Lightfoot has said. Industry-specific guidelines for reopening were released Tuesday.
But after reopening, neighborhood businesses will need strong support from customers to bounce back, Goodson said.
The Lakeview business survey also found:
- 77 percent of business owners are tapping savings and reserves;
- Nearly 2/3 are relying on credit; and
- 19 percent are dipping into personal retirement accounts.
To support those businesses, the chamber of commerce launched the “Love Local, Love Lakeview” marketing campaign, which highlights local options for food delivery or takeout, online shopping, virtual workouts or classes, and donation opportunities.
“We’re looking ahead to what comes next and see it as the summer of small businesses,” Goodson said. “We think there’s potential for our businesses to experience a rebound if the recovery is rolled out in a meaningful way that supports local businesses while providing safe and clean environments for customers.”
Jake Wittich is a Report for America corps member covering Lakeview, Boystown and Lincoln Park for Block Club Chicago.
Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.